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John McCain continues his courtship of establishment conservatives. Here, Cal Thomas reports on his interview of the Senator. McCain told Thomas that, while he has a good handle on foreign policy, he intends to learn more on domestic issues, including economics, tax policy and health care. “I’m going to have to be smarter on some issues than I am now,” McCain said.
I found it surprising that someone who has been in Washington as long as McCain would plead relative ignorance on core domestic policy issues. But my real concern is that when McCain thinks about these issues there’s no reason to be confident that his thinking will be informed by conservative, Reaganite principles. More likely, it will be dominated by the unmoored independence (or quirky prejudices) that seem to have dominated much of his thinking in the past. Or perhaps it will be dominated by political calculation.
I’m sensing that McCain is in a place similar to where Nixon and Kennedy were during the Cold War. These two presidents cared almost exclusively about foreign policy. For them, domestic policy was mostly something that one had to deal with in order to preserve the right to make the nation’s foreign policy. If Nixon could keep people happy by embracing affirmative action, a guaranteed annual income, or wage and price controls, that was a small price to pay.
If this is where McCain is, then his domestic policy most likely will be whatever it takes to balance the concerns of the Republican faithful with the concerns of swing voters. That would probably translate into fiscal restraint, no tax hikes or cuts, and lip service only to social conservatism. But that’s just a guess. Who in 1966 would have correctly predicted Nixon’s domestic agenda.

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