Hamilton, Madison, and Jay

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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

NRO talks McCain

On the heels of McCain's win in Florida last night, National Review has put up a symposium to discuss his candidacy, and possible nomination. Here are a couple of highlights from Mona Charen and Victor Davis Hanson:

Mona Charen
McCain’s phosphorescent patriotism (including his sacrifice for the country) has always been his greatest selling point and will continue to win respect and affection from conservatives as the general election approaches. Though admittedly he has a sense of humor, he has delighted in sticking his finger in our eyes on many occasions. Also, his ferocious defensiveness about his own honor often takes the shape of impugning the motives of those who differ with him.

On domestic policy he is not a conservative. As between Romney and McCain, Republican voters in Florida were asked to choose between a recent convert (if you will) and a false flag. Take abortion: McCain has touted his Senate record, but that misses his tone and affect. In 2000 he told The San Francisco Chronicle that “certainly in the short term or even in the long term I would not support the repeal of Roe v. Wade.” He backed off after conservatives howled, but the same lack of commitment on the question was revealed in his support of stem cell research.

McCain/Feingold was an assault on the constitution. The immigration bill was utterly heedless of the concerns of the majority of the conservative electorate. Yes, he’s been fine on spending, but let the New York Times show a little ankle and McCain gets weak in the knees.

On foreign policy, McCain remains a most admirable hawk. All honor to him for being right about the surge. But then there are weird failures of understanding on other matters. McCain believes Bush wasted seven years by not seeking negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians sooner! You simply cannot get more conventional Washington, D.C., thinking than that.

I don’t think McCain will reach out to conservatives. He probably believes (not without some justification at this juncture) that it’s up to us to come to him. But every time I take a step in his direction, I’m reminded of some other apostasy (taxes!) and I recoil.

I believe Ms. Charen's final point is poignant: He won't be reaching out to us. He'll be telling us that if we want him, we'll have to come to him. McCain is not the sort of person to go to his constituents with hat in hand trying to cajole them to his side. He is a true maverick in every sense of the word. The question for voters is can they set aside their differences with him -- as we have maintained that we will -- and make sure a Democrat doesn't win the White House. In the long run (and it's a long way to November) we believe most will. They won't like it. Some may even, literally, hold their noses in the polling place while voting for him. Maybe even a couple might have to be dragged kicking and screaming. But the choices are slim -- vote for McCain, or vote for a Democrat; either of which right now have espoused Euro-socialist agendas.

Victor Davis Hanson
I pray that John McCain can rally the base — since whatever anger conservatives hold toward him should pale in comparison to the specter of 16 years of the Clintons or Barack Obama’s European-style democratic socialism (with John Edwards as a possible attorney general). His acceptance speech seemed designed to do just that by references to tough judges, magnanimity shown his rivals, the evocation of conservatism, and a promise to stick to its principles, and I expect that will continue.

He might also:

1. Either overtly or privately assure conservatives that his vice presidential pick will be a base conservative — someone, for example, like Fred Thompson. A possibility at a future date would be to consider the arch-rival Romney (in the manner that Reagan selected the younger bitter rival “voodoo economics” George Bush) as a VP candidate (especially key, given McCain’s age and Romney’s robustness).

2. Drop the names of the sorts of Cabinet appointments he might make — Rudy Giuliani as attorney general, Joe Lieberman as secretary of defense, Romney as secretary of treasury, etc.

3. Meet head on with the Right media — go on with Hannity, Rush, etc., talk with National Review, etc. — and take the blows and acknowledge past differences, occasional rifts, and promise conservative principles — and do so in a gracious manner.

4. Stress the common adversary, especially the far left-agenda voiced by Obama and Edwards, and the reprehensible tactics of the Clintons.

5. Seek out more piling-on with Republican-establishment endorsements, which is a real likelihood given the human propensity to align with a perceived winner. Expect Thompson to fall in line soon.

A final note: Conservatives who are skeptical of McCain should realize that their reconciliation with him should be easier than that of moderates and independents with Clinton. The former disagrees over ideology, but considers McCain a principled person and a hero; the latter have no problem with Clinton’s politics, but are quite repelled by the lack of character and principles shown by Billary.

I would expect National Review to continue with its endorsement and promotion of Mitt Romney, but also I anticipate that should McCain win, and I think that he will, NR will rally to unify behind the nominee whom the Clintons rightly fear.

Even though McCain may despise doing it, hopefully his campaign people are urging him to do something to reach out to the conservative base to repair the rift. Talk isn't going to do it unless he hits the right notes. Mr. Hanson is spot-on with his suggestions of naming possible Cabinet members, emphasizing the ideological differences between liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, and by reminding people that over the course of the next four years as many as three to four justices will be leaving the high court. Would Republicans favor the Democrats making those choices, thereby condemning the high court to decades of activist darkness and enforced socialist ideas (Kelo, Lawrence, Roe, anyone?), or will we trust him to appoint the right jurists. (He can actually help his situation here by adding someone like Ted Olsen to his campaign, and have him as an advisor in such decisions, as Rudy Giuliani said he would for his campaign.)

Of course the other point that was made by Ms. Charen, and it's one that I thought of last night, is that there is still a war going on. Now, he doesn't have the stellar record of others (stating that waterboarding is torture, creating new torture guidelines in an attempt to trump the president, throwing a hissy fit of no habeas rights for detainees, calling for the closing of Gitmo), but he is a powerful hawk who would stay on offense against our Islamofascist enemy. Why bring this up?

America knows it's still at war, and they know this enemy can't be given an inch of breathing room. To do so would allow them to regroup and reconstitute. It would also give them time to work with some of the worst regimes in the region, such as Iran and Syria. Furthermore, letting up on them will allow them to counterattack in Iraq and Afghanistan with renewed vigor. The Democrats are hyping just such a tactic by calling for a withdrawal from Iraq, and we know that a withdrawal from Afghanistan won't be far behind.

John McCain's record as a hawk, and the nation's continued support of our troops in harm's way and their mission stand in stark contrast to Democrats calling for retreat and withdrawal. IF McCain is the nominee, it will force the war back to the forefront of the debate thereby exploiting a significant weakness of the Democrats. Remember that a lot of conservatives weren't too pleased with President Bush in 2004, but they voted for him over John Kerry because Kerry was pledging the "over the horizon redeployment" strategy in the war. Conservatives rallied to that call, and made it clear they didn't want a losing strategy.

America hates to lose and loves to win. If John McCain makes that a primary point of his campaign, and couples it with the suggestions from Mr. Hanson, he could very well make peace with the conservative base. At the very least, less conservatives would be inclined to hold their noses. But it comes down to him and how he handles this. We'll meet him halfway. His half should come in reassuring voters that he would be the best man to lead this nation, should he win the nomination.

Publius II


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