We’re seeing more and more reports like this one suggesting that conservatives (or at least conservatives inside the beltway) are taking another look at John McCain as a presidential candidate in 2008. The reports typically include claims that McCain really isn’t as liberal as he’s made out to be. In the latest report, one conservative operative is quoted as saying, “on the three issues most conservatives are energized about right now, the war, spending and the court, McCain is hardcore.
The truth of that statement depends on the meaning of “hardcore.” Under my definition, McCain wasn’t hardcore when he joined the gang of 14, thus effectively sinking the prospects of several outstanding conservative nominees for the court of appeals. Nor, in my view, is he hardcore in the war on terror when he advocates blanket “anti-torture” policies that would limit the government’s ability to obtain information from terrorists.
A more honest view of why conservatives might support McCain comes from another operative who says, “the national environment has gone to s-t and Republicans are going to take a beating in 2006; McCain is the only guy out there with the credibility to maintain Republican control in Washington. But “the only guy out there” covers a lot of territory. The “only Washington insider” might be a more accurate formulation.
I find it ironic that President Bush is taking heat from conservatives for his “compassionate conservativism,” even as conservatives flirt with McCain, a more centrist figure. In political terms, compassionate conservatism was an acknowledgement that, given Bill Clinton’s political success, the party could not win with a stridently anti-government agenda. Some conservatives attack Bush for that “nod,” even as they consider embracing McCain based on speculation that he’s the only Republican who can win in 2008.
ANOTHER THOUGHT: The silver lining in McCain’s rapproachement with conservatives is that it increases the likelihood of Judge Alito’s confirmation. If the Democrats succeed in blocking Alito, conservatives likely will find it impossible to forgive McCain for blocking the “nuclear option.” McCain and his friend Senator Graham have to deliver this time, and if these two are willing to peel away from the “gang,” Alito’s chances are excellent.