McCainiacs Must Persuade Grassroots, Not Commentators

February 14, 2008

Political commentators from various points on the right-wing spectrum are still arguing about the McCain presidential candidacy, lecturing and scolding each other — as if their opinions are going to decide the election. They take themselves too seriously.

The McCainiacs are warning McCain’s conservative opponents that unless they stop criticizing McCain immediately, he’ll never recover in time for the general election.

This assumes that if the pundits come around, the grassroots will follow, like mindless sheep. Newsflash: They are neither intellectually shallow nor easily led. They are informed, engaged, independent minded and principled.

Nothing illustrates this better than the controversy surrounding the revival of McCain’s candidacy. I haven’t seen this much anxiety among conservatives since the Clinton impeachment.

I’ve never received more e-mails, and they’ve never been more passionate. My correspondents fall roughly into three groups:

One group is outraged at conservative holdouts who aren’t warming to McCain quickly enough to allay their fears that less than a unified GOP front will result in the end of the world under a president Clinton or Obama. My earlier statement that I would ultimately vote for McCain (however reluctantly) if he’s the nominee didn’t pacify them. Even to softly criticize him or gently nudge him to the right would be to forfeit the election to the Democrats.

The second group is incensed that conservatives would consider supporting McCain even as the lesser of “evils.” Such would be a betrayal of the highest magnitude and disqualifies them from calling themselves conservatives. They will never vote for McCain. One, fairly typical, wrote, “For me to cast a vote for (McCain) at this time is totally unthinkable. I would have to don from head to toe our surgical isolation gear with heavy gloves and boots and wear a gas mask, too, and carry my ballot over to the ballot box by a pair of tongs. Then I would have to hurry home to shower off in the hottest of water and then douse myself with bleach. … And I say this knowing that McLame is (supposedly) more conservative than Obama or Hillary!!!”

The third group, though equally passionate, is less resolute. They view McCain’s candidacy as presenting a dilemma. On the one hand, he’s an inveterate opponent of many conservative causes, and voting for him in the general election would be enormously painful. On the other, not voting for him would be to facilitate the unthinkable. They feel utter despair.

Quite uncharacteristically, I find myself somewhat torn, as well. I couldn’t ever vote for Hillary or Obama, but I don’t think Republicans are so fragile that continuing this vigorous debate among ourselves is dangerous. Reagan conservatives have to continue to make their voices heard.

Many conservatives aren’t impressed that McCain allegedly has an 80 percent lifetime conservative voting record. They view the numerous and substantial policy differences he has today with Reagan conservatives as disqualifying.

He says he’ll extend the Bush tax cuts, but he vigorously opposed them initially. So what about other supply side measures, like lowering or eliminating capital gains and estate taxes? He says he’ll protect the border, but does he still favor amnesty for some 20 million illegals without regard to what that could mean for security, the deficit, the culture, the rule of law and political demographics? Will he still call his opponents on this issue “nativists”?

He says he’s a fiscal hawk, but since he’s bought into liberal global-warming propaganda, will he push cap-and-trade, Kyoto, and other initiatives that could bankrupt our government and economy? Will he close Gitmo, bring terrorist prisoners within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States and treat them like criminal suspects instead of war enemies? Will he continue to subordinate life issues to his beloved campaign finance reform crusade?

I would never consider voting for a Democratic presidential candidate just because the Republican was not optimal. But I understand why some have drawn the line at McCain’s candidacy.

Regardless, whatever the McCainiacs do, they should not underestimate the intensity of conservative angst against him, his recent record and many of his current positions. His conservative opponents are legion and they will not be appeased with glib promises.

It wouldn’t matter if Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham and every other conservative talk-show host and commentator came together and implored them to vote for McCain. A great many of them will not do so unless they are personally satisfied they are not selling their country down the river by electing John McCain.

So instead of focusing on Rush, Sean, Mark and Laura, the McCainiacs better address sincerely the concerns of the grassroots — soon. Without the base, all the moderates in the world won’t save him.