Yuval Levin does an excellent job of explaining what makes John McCain tick (almost identical with what ticks him off), its uneasy relationship with "principled conservatism," and how conservatives can try to make their causes his. The result won’t have much staying power beyond this campaign or a McCain administration since it depends almost entirely on the mostly admirable character of the manly man, but it is the hand we have been dealt.
And to the degree that politics is about the formation of character--something conservatives who haven’t sold their souls entirely to libertarianism surely can’t deny--a McCain candidacy and presidency could offer a highly particular and personal vision of a kind of national unity.
The problem, as Peter Lawler has pointed out in an all-too-brief post (though doubtless soon to be in print or online somewhere in a more expanded version) is that honor politics is problematical or incomplete as a democratic politics. Men of honor have a hard time feeling compassion or respecting the ordinary lives of their fellow citizens or living with even a non-debased equality. McCain the "aristocrat" needs a leavening of "democracy"--not mere egalitarianism or pandering (the old Clintonian feeling our pain)--but what Peter has called "the preacher." This is a vision of nobility that justifies sacrifice not as an act of generosity or noblesse oblige, but as an expression of solidarity.
John McCain 1.0 could do well campaigning against Hillary Clinton. In both of them, "democracy" looks more like aristocratic generosity than solidarity. The difference is that McCain’s distance comes from his character, whereas HRC’s comes from her wealth. Clinton’s can even come across as interest group log-rolling, which really helps McCain. (If she could ever compellingly make her liberal Methodism part of her public persona, it would help her at the margins, adding a small element of solidarity to her noblesse oblige. But I digress.)
It would, I think, take a McCain 2.0 effectively to contest the election against Obama, whose seemingly vacuous message of unity hits all the right democratic notes. McCain the mere aristocrat can’t beat that. He needs someone not named Huckabee who can relatively plausibly present himself as a "sacrificial servant" as a running mate.