Did the New York Times make McCain stronger?

That apparantly seems to be what has happened. Aside some some exceptions among conservatives like Ann Coulter who says her colleagues were “stupid” for supporting McCain against the Times story, many of them rallied to his support.

Here’s a CBS News video report on the matter:

Then check out this article on it from The Politico:

Conservative leaders often portray their political mission in moralistic terms: right vs. wrong. But their reaction to a news report that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) might have had an inappropriate relationship with a female lobbyist shows the activist right is often animated by a different impulse: us against them.

The right-wing response to the New York Times article was in some ways as stunning, and as revealing, as the salacious story itself.

Some of the loudest voices of the modern conservative movement — Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Gary Bauer, CBN.org — flogged the Times while hardly pausing to consider the underlying facts of the story. Immediately, almost reflexively, these commentators assumed the worst motives and behavior by The Times and accepted McCain’s bland yet broad denials.

Perhaps McCain may come out of this actually being stronger among some of his strongest conservative detractors. Perhaps the Times story put the battle into context. However, conservatives aren’t alone in chastising the story, a few prominent Democrats have done so as well which further illustrates how McCain has an ability to cut across party lines with support. Of course, I can’t find the story on that at the moment but I will update this later.

However, what was interesting is that the Times story created the gutcheck moment for conservatives feeling like they would prefer to stay home than support McCain:

John Fund, a Wall Street Journal columnist who talks regularly to all elements of the conservative movement, says many Republican leaders thought they had no choice but to immediately rally behind McCain.

“The timing of the Times story was unfair,” Fund said. “Primary voters have already spoken. So in addition to the anger at the serious weaknesses of the story, if McCain collapsed now, Republicans would be without a nominee.”

If they don’t like McCain, then why should they be concerned with how he’s treated as the nominee? I think this is illustrating the fact that, while some like Ann Coulter will hold out and never support McCain, many like Limbaugh may cave and support him to some extent for the good of their party.

Here’s the crux of the matter, are conservatives letting McCain off the hook:

Imagine for a moment the story had been about McCain’s possible opponent in the general election, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Might the conservatives have paused to ask why he hired Robert S. Bennett, one of the capital’s most fearsome and expensive lawyers?

Might they have wondered why he had flown aboard a private jet with the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman — on a flight paid for by her client? Might they have probed more deeply why she was supposedly hanging around the senator’s planes, office and events often enough that his staff tried to impose an unofficial restraining order on her?

Much of the story seemed sketchy but yet many of the facts remain even if the entire plot the Times attempted to create didn’t seem to materialize.

Aside from this recent story, the Republican race seems to be cooling off. At this point, McCain is no longer engaging Huckabee since he doesn’t have to. McCain has stated as much that he thinks Obama will be the nominee but he’s been pretty mild in tossing bombs toward the Democratic side as well.