Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Conservative responses to McCain

The NYT’s David Kirkpatrick surveys the range of reactions to John McCain as the nominee. WHile some, like James Dobson, say they’ll never support him, others, who claim to be more in touch with the grassroots, can find a way of reconciling themselves.

E.J. Dionne, Jr. thinks McCain is the candidate of the "Republican establishment," which isn’t ho it looks from where I sit. He also thinks that the "capitulation [of "Republican elected officials," who are moving into the McCain camp] signals the end of the Reagan-Bush era and the beginning of something quite different." If McCain wins the general election, perhaps. But the future of the GOP isn’t in the plurality coalition that has vaulted Mac to the top. He’s too idiosyncratic and mercurial to have a long-term effect on the party or on conservatism. My real concern remains how he, or any other nominee, is going to connect with the next generation of potential Republican and conservative voters. Someone has to get them into the habit....

Discussions - 25 Comments

It is this kind of thing, which may be a tempest in a teacup, but which some of us remember, that makes it hard to see McCain as a member of the Republican establishment. He really would NOT be acceptable to the Democratic Party, so it is hard to see why he would ever have gone there. As this article reminds me, it is McCain's independence that makes him look like a non-partisan with Republican leanings in some areas and that might be what appeals.


If this, McCain's Republicanism, is the wave of the future, I am going to have a hard time being a Republican. I had no habit of being a conservative or a Republican when I became one. What RR said brought me in. I had been uncomfortable with the Nixon/Ford Republican Party. I wasn't a Democrat, but I wasn't that, either. If the GOP is going back to something like that, I am in trouble, or at least I am going to be very uncomfortable.

Anyhow, my point was going to be that habits of party membership didn't do much for me and as I watch my sons form their politics, it seems not to do much for them, either. They, next generation potentials, are looking for an articulate ideologue to support, which is why my son most interested in politics is a Ron Paul fan. It is not the habits of the potential Republican voters that worries me, at this point; it is the habits of the "Republican establishment" that makes me queasy.

O.K., "habit" implies less reflection than I mean, but allegiances and predispositions are formed relatively early and hard to change later. I too started voting Republican around 1980.

My concern is that Republicans run the risk of ceding a substantial chunk of the electorate to Democrats now, offering the latter the opportunity to close the deal with them for the foreseeable future. Sure, there will always be Young Republicans and young conservatives; the question is the size of that cohort.

For me, when young, what compelled were ideas, primarily those about individual freedoms, mostly, but not entirely political. When I was young, I liked the idea of "Smash the State" with which I later found a certain resonance in the Reagan Revolution's "Limit Government". (I was never a Young Republican) I suggest that the central idea was the same and that people, American types, anyway, are striving for personal freedom. If they become convinced that larger government will set them free, I have an argument. Has the Republican Party an argument for that or has it capitulated on the point? If it has and there is only the question of type of controls and how and who does the controlling, that's where I get uncomfortable. Even at my advanced age I would be willing to change parties. It is ideas that are compelling, not brand loyalty.

E.J. has probably been predicting the end of the "Reagan Era" since about 1979, so I wouldn't take him all that seriously. But I think Joe's right that McCain doesn't have enough of a natural constituency to construct a "legacy" in the GOP. Of course, that was true of all the candidates this year - indeed, I think it's probably true of candidates in general these days, as our celebrity politics culture has made such substantive changes hard to sustain. Consider how much of the Dem Party has repudiated their *only* successful presidency since maybe LBJ (and even he ended essentially in failure). It's like Kaus's "Feiler Faster" thesis - party allegiances, I think, are shifting a lot faster than they did before and I think all partisans will have a harder time in the future building lasting, transformative coalitions.

I am amazed at the wooden, utterly static notion of a "Reagan legacy" needing to be preserved in stone, or at best updated mildly. Reagan himself must be laughing.

However I doubt he is laughing at the insane ranting of conservatives now about one of their own who is not quite pure enough. In the early 1980s, I abandoned the left when I realized its demonization of Ronald Reagan himself showed me the left's profoundly disturbed state. Its derangement over RR in fact reflected limitations in its own thinking, limitations it could not face and think through.

Today, the derangement on the right over McCain reminds me eerily of this, especially the utter dead-end of the right's thinking about immigration, whether of the Buchananite nativist sort or the less unpalatable Tancredo variant. In place of a lack of tough, rigorous thought about how to restore the principles of assimilation and infuse the structure of our institutions with them, we get purification rituals such as the anti-McCain hysteria. Immigration is not the only issue dividing McCain and the hard right, but conservatism as a movement has also hit dead-ends on others (taxes, entitlements, the war). McCain hatred is a way to hold onto the illusion that conservatism has a need only to protect (or at best, modify slightly) a "legacy" rather than a need to continually undergo major dialectic transformations as it evolves.

Dr. K., did James Dobson say he would never support McCain?

Red,

On Dobson, that's what the NYT cites a spokesman as saying.

Red, I had exactly the same question, and doubted it was so. Googling it,however, I find that a year ago Dobson said: "Speaking as a private individual, I would not vote for John McCain under any circumstances." The objections were many, but seemed to focus on McCain's perceived support for gay marriage.

Jonathan Burack,


Who are you calling hysterical? You remind me of my mother, "If you can't say something nice about someone, don't say anything at all." I am not concerned with a legacy, but with principles of governance that I don't think McCain has. I think he could win the election. I think any Republican could win. The Democratic alternatives are going to duel like the gingham dog and the calico cat and I couldn't be happier about it.

In one sense I do not like the attacks on McCain, either, but I DO want to have a candidate I can live with in some comfort. I am not convinced that is going to be the case with McCain and he would have been my last choice for the nomination.

RC2, yes, there is an article on Dobson at WND today. I think his main objection is that McCain does not support a marriage amendment. As I believe we discussed at your site, there are good conservative and Christian reason not to support an amendment, but I'm sure McCain's objections are not the same objects that Howard Phillips has. So I am glad Dobson is taking a stand, although his objection on the marriage amendment betrays a somewhat simplistic formulation of the issue.



Personally, I would hold McCain's angry statements about conservative Christians and their leaders that he made in 2000 against him. Not that we shouldn't forgive him and people can't change, but I think his statements made in anger betray his real feelings.



The problem is where some of these people are going to go. The logical answer would be to vote for the CP nominee, but the CP nominee is almost certain to be anti-intervention on foreign policy. Dobson thinks Huck is too weak on the War.

BTW, Coulter said she will support Hillary if McCain is the nominee. Glad she is not willing to support McCain, but supporting Hillary is just dumb. She is hung up on torture and fair trails for detainees. So I guess she is unlikely to support a anti-interventionist CP or LP nominee.

I think that's nuts (Coulter's position, if she's in earnest). I'm disappointed with the guy who's got a 63% ACU rating, so I'm voting for the gal with 8%? I guess the logic is let the Dems be the ones to destroy the country, but I'd prefer not to let the country be destroyed.

Recall RC2 that Bush didn't just prove himself a clod, he dragged ALL OF CONSERVATISM into disrepute, along with his own failed policies, his own failed personnel selections, his own failed administration.

Instead of the nation blaming Kerry for such policies, and looking to Conservatives to bail them out, they're blaming the Republican Party and American Conservatives.

Thus not just are we saddled with a guy who isn't a Conservative, BUT CONSERVATIVES SHOULDER the blame for his manifest inadequacies. THAT'S the point that Coulter is making.

And it's irrefutable.

Had the men of the Bush family deliberately sought to destroy Reaganism, they couldn't possibly do as much damage as they've actually rendered. It's as Peggy Noonan said, "George Walker Bush SUNDERED the Republican Party." And she didn't finger his aides, nor did she finger Rove, she fingered him, and she laid it ALL on him. And she saw it all unfolding years ago, when he tried to ram Harriet Meirs down out throats. I really think that Bush has acted ever since with great animus for the base for rejecting Meirs, and rejecting him. His actions ever since have almost displayed a level of contempt that exceeds even the contempt of McCain, and that's saying something.

In a way they're both bookends, bookends oozing venom and malice for the base of the party. Both seemingly determined, {what other word can be used to do justice to the case...} to place in the saddle Whigs, instead of Republicans.

It's something of a coup within our party. Or rather an invasion of the body snatchers, where Conservative Republicans are surreptitiously dealt with in the dead of an ominous night, and in their stead, stand erect in the morning air, these pale, lifeless, Whigs, resurrected from the tombs Ronald Reagan and Gingrich consigned them to in yesteryear.

The whole thing is creepy, it's surreal, it's like something out of some cult B-flick.

McCain is the candidate of the "Republican establishment," which isn’t ho it looks from where I sit.

What would it take to make you think otherwise? McCain has been endorsed by Howard Baker. You don't get any more Republican establishment than that. He is clearly the preferred candidate of the GOP party leaders.

Which is why so few are willing to come out and openly blast McCain. You hear Capitol Hill Republicans complain about McCain, but not for the record, and they don't let their name be used for attribution.

So not simply is the establishment lining up behind him, but he's already intimidated those who would prefer to see someone else. It's not a coincidence that McCain's most serious opponents are found on talk radio, where they're insulated from his threats. At least for the time being, for the Fairness Doctrine is about to make a comeback, and talk radio as we've known it since the late '80s is about to be consigned to the ash heap of history.

Senators don't like having to hear from constituents, and they don't much like having to explain themselves, {Senator Voinovich's interview with Hannity in '06 comes to mind}. They want the pleasure of incumbency, without any anxiety about it coming to an untimely end.

And they're weary too of the bickering, the "partisanship." Well, isn't that special.

The whole thing is creepy, it's surreal, it's like something out of some cult B-flick.

Coming soon to a capital near you: Revenge Of The Rockefellers!

I notice, Dan, that Rudy Giuliani has endorsed McVain and is campaigning with him.

Bush has turned out better that I expected him to, actually. He rose to the occasion of 9/11, kept the economy on a good footing, spared us the insult of federally-funded embryonic stem cell research. Education, senior drug plan: I haven't always agreed with him, but it's not as if he didn't run on those issues. We knew what we were getting.

I don't think he has a malicious bone in his body. On the contrary, I take him to be trying his sincere best to govern like a Christian statesman.

I am not implying he has always succeeded or that I thus "baptize" his every policy. But I really don't see malice.

Bush has turned out better that I expected him to

You must have had very low expectations.

We knew what we were getting.

His single biggest domestic issue, in fact his biggest single issue period, turned out to be amnesty for twenty million illegals. He never ran on that. Never mentioned it at all.

I don't know that we knew what we were getting in George Bush in 2000. We certainly knew in 2004.


No. I do not see any malice in the man, either. Neither did I expect much from him, especially after the NCLB with Kennedy right at the outset. We probably do not know what we are getting with any candidate because they cannot know what they are going to do, themselves, until they get into office and see what they find there. For example, Clinton governed much more conservatively than I ever expected and that was a considerable relief.


I think we will appreciate Bush for the big things like the war on terror and the benefit of the tax cuts on the economy, which has held up remarkably well for such a long time, just as RC2 says above. He seemed like the best option at the time, in 2000. I wished there was someone stronger back then, but all of this vituperation, here and elsewhere, against him seems a bit much, especially given what we seem to be facing up ahead. We can't help the men who are available, who make themselves available to do the job. We can only make the best of them and perhaps they can only make the best they can of themselves and the situation they find themselves in. If GWB had been stronger, politically, perhaps those failures, which may have been compromises to gain some greater good in some other area, might not have happened. When I am buying the stupid new light bulbs or especially when I am trying to get rid of them, I'll decry Bush's signing of the stupid legislation mandating them as much as anyone. Growth of government? It makes me weep. But if we have a Democratic president who does far more and far worse stupidities along those lines, I'll forgive Bush.

Yea, it's pretty painful seeing Rudy endorse McCain. Though he had said all along that if he weren't in the race, the guy he would support would be McCain.

As for Bush, other than Roberts and Alito, what domestic achievement has he to his name? Tax cuts? They're sunsetted, and are due to expire. Campaign finance "reform" is hardly a legacy to be proud of. He intends to sign the ICC and the Law of the Sea Treaty, again, hardly the type of thing that any self-respecting Republican would boast of.

Of course we can attribute to him a plunging dollar, whose decreasing value is triggering economic shock waves throughout the developed world. And of course we can attribute to him the dubious glory of having DOUBLED THE FEDERAL BUDGET in his single presidency. Again, which man in his right mind would be proud to acknowledge such a thing. And then again we should be mindful of him being the first President in living memory to flinch from vetoing anything, until that is he's almost a lame duck incumbent.

As for foreign affairs, he responded to the attacks that originated in Afghanistan. Is he supposed to get the Legion of Merit or something for that, which everybody expected to be the bare minimum to the attacks on 9/11. He did cleanse the world of the presence of Saddam and his family. Bravo.

But that seems to be the entirety of George Walker Bush's military response to the events of 9/11. Hardly anything to stand up and give a cheer about.

He tells us that Saddam won't be around to threaten us with weapons of mass destruction. True enough. But what of Iran? What was the use of removing Saddam, but leaving the job half-completed. The removal of Saddam won't mean very much if we lose London, if we lose NYC because of the Iranians, now will it?

He tells us he removed a terror sponsoring state in Iraq and Afghanistan. Again, true enough. But what good is removing those two, but establishing a terror sponsor in the West Bank and Gaza.

Overall, we're left with the sad conclusion that the Bush presidency has always been about finding a middle ground. You saw it evidenced in his handling of the Libby case. He lets Libby get unjustly smeared and prosecuted and impoverished, not to mention he'll probably be sued in civil court. But he does commute his sentence. THAT was Bush in a nauseating nutshell.

Bush simply doesn't have, and what's more, NEVER had the stuff of command. He is uniquely unsuited for the demands of high command. And he should have leveled with the American people long ago, admitted as much, and stepped aside. Had he done so, the American people would have respected a man who had the manhood to come clean with them.

And the worst of the 2d term is still yet to come. There are few things worse than a president desperately thrashing about for some sort of lasting legacy. That was what the immigration battle was all about. That was a man placing his own interests before that of the United States and that of the American people. That single action was a grave and mortal offense against the posterity of my country.

No Kate, we didn't "know" what we were going to get in this nightmarish 2d term. If we had, there's no way Zell Miller would have rose to speak at the Convention in the manner that he did.

I had inklings, I sensed something in the wind, but I had no idea the whirlwind of woe that Bush was about to visit upon the country that I love with all my heart.

This was a guy that CAMPAIGNED on appointing people like Scalia and Thomas. This was a guy who promised that Iran would not be left in a position where it could go nuke. This is a guy who promised many things, and suggested many more, and has delivered on none.

The only thing he has left in his wake is a nation of Conservatives ready to channel Howard Beale, not just "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not gonna' take it anymore." Not just that one, but Howard's speech: "We're in trouble...." For those of you who've forgotten that speech, old Howard late of UBS News can be checked out on Youtube. That screenplay was a tour de force.

There's a difference between a policy disagreement and a character flaw. Never had the stuff of command? In addition to Roberts & Alito he's given us more than 100 excellent appointees to lower courts; he gave us tax cuts that prevented a recession in the face of 9/11; he held the federally-funded abortion/stem cell juggernaut at bay; he kept us out of Kyoto; he prevented any other terrorist attacks on our soil --a relentless task that surely has occupied most of the energy of his administration-- and he gave us the highly successful surge. All of that in the face of ruthless opposition from the court of world opinion, arguably the worst Congress in history --some of its members engaged in acts of outright treason-- newspapers that rush to leak military secrets, and a Conservative movement that has been quick to assume he's stupid or wicked and denounce him before he even acts. What he's accomplished without any loyal friends is a tremendous achievement of command.


Even NCLB & prescription drugs and other spending programs that make Conservatives shudder have at least the merit of including free market elements that give some scope to human freedom.

Where he's gone wrong, in my judgment he's gone wrong honestly: doing what he thought was right. After 8 years I have nothing but admiration for the man's strength of character, policy differences aside.

Big government but with lovely big loopholes for freedom as a positive aspect of the Bush presidency? I write it with a smile. And we all know about the road to hell and good intentions. Yes, I too think Bush has only gone wrong honestly. It isn't all that much of a commendation, is it?

On the other hand, the country is not really in such bad shape. Dan makes it sound like we are in hell already, and waltzed to it on a road paved with very bad intentions, but I think not. I read that the whole world is watching our election as its outcome so effects them all. We muddle along as the greatest, most powerful and prosperous nation on earth despite all sorts of messy things. Maybe needing someone extraordinary and only having men (and woman) who like to tell us all how extraordinary they are is God's judgment on our time. At least Bush doesn't do that, God bless him. But powerfully muddling along, coming out pretty all right, somehow; Bush is so like America and seems so American.

Who, Dan, who did we have in 2004 who would have done better? McCain? Kerry? Ralph Nader?

RC2, you've got your facts mixed up big time. His attempts to get through Gonzales and Meirs would have effectively invalidated the lower court appointments. And that number you picked was heavily skewed to the federal magistrate and district court level, the actual number of CIRCUIT COURT APPOINTMENTS that Bush got through is embarrassingly few. For example the 4th Circuit, probably the most Conservative Circuit in the federal system is going left because Bush wouldn't fight to get CONSERVATIVE appointments through, though he did appoint Clinton holdovers to that Court. POWERLINE wrote a piece that noted that the Conservative tenor of Bush's Circuit Court nominees dramatically dropped off AFTER Meirs was rejected.

Now why would that be?

Taxes? Which tax cuts has Bush gotten through after the INITIAL TAX CUT PRIOR to 9/11? There hasn't been any. And that initial tax cut was sunsetted. Which means it's due to lapse UNLESS extended or made permanent. Now what likelihood is there for that when the Democrats control the Senate and the House. And why do they control the Senate and the House. Why did we lose men like Curt Weldon and Rick Santorum? Why did that happen?

Rejected Kyoto? Again, where have you been guy? Bush is looking to make some rinky dink alterations to Kyoto and then get it passed. He's not rejected the whole notion of Kyoto, and he's going to sign a piece of legislation MORE OBNOXIOUS THAN Kyoto and the Immigration fiasco, which is The Law of the Sea Treaty, a proposal so left wing that even Clinton stayed well clear of it.

"He prevented a terrorist attack...." This is a mantra we hear frequently, and one of these days I'll make a rather lengthy observation about that particular "legacy" of this administration.

"[A]ll of this in the face of ruthless opposition ....." WHAT ROLE does his own communicative incompetence play in the formation of that opposition. Bush has the WORST communication staff in American history, --------------------------- now don't you think that might, JUST MIGHT have something to do with the level of domestic and foreign opposition that he's met with. Had he run a competent staff, had he delivered the speeches that should have been written and delivered, had he staffed State with people ready and eager to trumpet his policies and vision, DON'T YOU THINK that opposition might have been diminished, not abolished mind you, BUT MADE MORE MANAGEABLE. Thus a good chunk of the opposition he faces is directly attributable to his own incompetence, in communication, in articulation and in personnel selections.

And it's the same with the war.

I could go on about this morbid topic all day and all night. But instead I think I'll go get a hoagie. And spare myself the trouble of repeating the obvious, and cluing people in about details of this administration they've either overlooked, or forgotten.

But just to sum up, GW's record overlays with a previous President, and a President from Texas to boot, his name is LBJ. And that isn't anything to brag or boast about.

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