Conservatives Have Always Loved John McCain

April 3rd, 2008at 06:55pm Posted by Eli

Hey, remember when all the crazy hardcore conservatives like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh were wailing and moaning about how McCain was so terrible, such a traitor to the Republican cause, that they’d support Hillary instead? Raise your hand if you thought this would be the one time that they were telling the truth.

On [the] afternoon [that] most of these figures’ preferred candidate, Mitt Romney, announced at CPAC, the big annual conservative conference in Washington, that he was dropping out of the race[,] McCain, now the presumptive Republican nominee, was booed. The next morning the conservative magazine Human Events sent out a weekly roundup of its top ten stories to its e-mail list. Eight were anti-McCain jeremiads. One called the McCain ascendancy “the new Axis of Evil.” Michael Reagan’s article “John McCain Hates Me” posited a “huge gap that separates McCain–whose contempt for his fellow humans is patently obvious–and my dad, Ronald Reagan,” and concluded, “He has contempt for conservatives who he thinks can be duped into thinking he’s one of them.”

Michael Reagan, for one, would not be duped. He would not defile his father’s sacred memory. At least for a week. Eight days later Reagan’s article for Human Events argued, “Assuming that John McCain will be the Republican nominee, you can bet my father would be itching to get out on the campaign trail working to elect him even if he disagreed with him on a number of issues.”

Awesome. Michael Reagan, Conservative Man Of Integrity.

Such are the strange McCain contortions Republicans have been forcing themselves into in recent weeks. Tom DeLay used to fret that he “might have to sit this one out” if McCain won the nomination. Now he’s stumping for the presumptive nominee with apparent enthusiasm….

(…)

Conservatism is, among many other things, a culture. The most important glue binding it together is a shared sense of cultural grievance–the conviction, uniting conservatives high and low, theocratic and plutocratic, neocon and paleocon, that someone, somewhere is looking down their noses at them with a condescending sneer. And to conservatives, McCain has been too often one of the sneerers. It is, as much as anything else, a question of affect. As Michael Reagan wrote, “I don’t like the way he treats people. You get the impression that he thinks everybody is beneath him.”

Hey, not everyone can be a humble, salt-of-the-earth Joe Sixpack like Dubya, right?

The issues aren’t the issue. George Stephanopoulos once asked Tom DeLay what it was conservatives demanded of McCain, and DeLay admitted as much: “I don’t think they’re demanding that he change in his position,” he said. “It is attitude.”

In other words: it’s the ring-kissing, stupid. Consider George H.W. Bush’s attitude: he all but groveled before conservatives–first calling supply-side doctrine “voodoo economics,” then swallowing hard and accepting a spot as voodoo priest Reagan’s running mate. Bob Dole, formerly a proud budget balancer, lay prostrate before them in accepting a 15 percent across-the-board tax cut as the cornerstone of his 1996 presidential platform, then took on movement hero Jack Kemp as his running mate.

(…)

For decades, the operative theory in Republican politics has been that there exists a seething mass of lockstep conservative voters controlled by leaders like these, without whose support no Republican can win a presidential election. Michael Reagan puts it this way: “If [McCain] gets the nomination the only way he could win against Hillary or Barack Obama would be to be part of a McCain-Limbaugh ticket.” But that’s certainly never been reflected in any actual electoral data…. According to a recent CBS poll, only 17 percent of Republicans want an uncompromising conservative as their nominee. Eighty percent of Republicans are satisfied with McCain. Sixty percent of conservative primary voters say they “want a candidate who would compromise with Democrats in order to get things done.”

McCain has called their bluff. He didn’t suck up to Rush Limbaugh but won the nomination anyway; he’s also faring well in general election matchups. He has shown that the kingmakers have no clothes. The humiliation is hard to forgive. It has made it harder for conservative leaders to do business and turned politicians like McCain (and Arnold Schwarzenegger), in their eyes, into monsters. On Glenn Beck’s CNN show, for instance, Democratic consultant Peter Fenn pointed out that the reason McCain does well with voters is that “they think he is independent.”

“Yes,” Beck replied, “well, so is Dr. Frankenstein.”

Lamest. Comeback. Ever. Glenn Beck may very well be the stupidest man on television, and that’s saying something.

Conservatives started to pivot publicly in the middle of February. It may have had something to do with reports that McCain gave in to what Robert Novak identified as the negotiating terms of “elements of the Republican Party’s right wing”: “first, that McCain would veto any tax increase passed by a Democratic Congress; second, that he would not emulate Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush in naming liberal Supreme Court Justices such as John Paul Stevens and David Souter.” It may also have something to do with McCain’s bowing down before the conservative holy grail of super-harsh enforcement-first immigration reform.

Or, if my theory is correct, the conservative turnabout may have less to do with any particular policy pledges than with an ostentatious shift in apparent attitude: a show of groveling before the professional conservatives. “I’ve listened and learned,” ran McCain’s Super Tuesday radio ads announcing he’d seen the light on immigration: “No one will be rewarded for illegal behavior.”…

We may never know how these meetings went down. Something, however, seems to have shifted in those days following CPAC. Jack Kemp, the man who was made Bob Dole’s 1996 running mate as a sop to conservatives, penned an open letter to right-wing talk-radio on February 11, arguing that for conservatives to sit petulantly on their hands this fall would turn over the nation to “those who would weaken our nation’s defense, wave a white flag to al-Qaida, socialize our health-care system, and promote income redistribution and class warfare instead of economic growth and equality of opportunity.”…

Then, fortuitously, in the third week of February, just as the floodgates for McCain’s redemption were opening, came an exposé of his alleged favors to an attractive blond lobbyist–from dreaded bête noire of conservatives, the New York Times. That offered the fig leaf to erstwhile McCain-haters who wished to make the pivot to party loyalty and still save face. It was no accident, they claimed, that it had been the people Jed Babbin called in another context “the hyperliberal editors of the New York Times” who had engineered the man’s downfall. “The New York Times is trying to Swift Boat McCain,” trumpeted one Republican strategist. “This is the first real salvo of the general election.”…

To which a citizen of the reality-based community might reasonably ask: why would the editors at the Times–a paper that hired McCain’s most consistent and aggressive backer in the conservative opinion firmament, Bill Kristol, as a columnist–“Swiftboat” a candidate they had endorsed for the Republican nomination?

How naïve you are. “The media picked the GOP’s candidate,” explained Rush Limbaugh, “and is now, with utter predictability, trying to destroy him.” Shock-talker Laura Ingraham helpfully elaborated: “You wait until it’s pretty much beyond a doubt that he’s going to be the Republican nominee, and then you let it drop.”…

(…)

The whole [right-wing noise] machine had always been built on a series of bluffs: that once the malign hand of the liberals was removed from the executive, legislative and judicial branches, our new conservative Jerusalem would be achieved. But something remarkable occurred in the five years between 2001 and 2006: for the first time since the rise of the modern conservative movement with the nomination of Barry Goldwater in 1964, then the rise of Newt Gingrich’s revolutionaries in 1994, the right had a chance to control all three branches of government–to actually run the country. Naught but obvious failures have been the result: a crashing economy, a rotting infrastructure, a failed war and a less safe world, more Americans saying their nation is on the wrong track than at any time since pollsters started measuring.

Democrats really should do hammer this home every chance they get: Republicans and conservatives are absolutely, completely, woefully incompetent at governing. All they know how to do is loot, pay off friends, settle scores with enemies, and generally blow shit up. American can’t afford another 4-8 years of Republican “government.”

But back to the main point: Republicans will back McCain with just as much irrational zeal as they opposed him, and with just as much as they would have backed Reagan’s clone/reanimated corpse/brain-in-a-vat. It’s what they do. And frankly, I have a lot more faith in John McCain to enact a conservative agenda than I have in Clinton or Obama to enact a progressive one.

Entry Filed under: Elections,McCain,Media,Politics,Republicans


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