On Partisanship and McCain Hatred

Barring a cataclysmic collapse, John McCain will be the Republican presidential nominee for the 2008 general election. McCain turned out to be the last man standing, as he peaked at just the right time. However, McCain will enter the general election with a fractured party and quite a bit of resentment among the Republican base.

There are two types of conservatives: ideological conservatives and Republican conservatives. Dissatisfied ideological conservatives will likely have fewer qualms about sitting this election out or voting for the Constitution Party nominee. These ideological conservatives want the Republican Party to remain true to its conservative principles, even if that means splitting the Republican vote so much that it allows a Democrat to win the election because that would show Republican presidential aspirants that their electoral chances hinge on how true they are to their conservative base. These conservatives gave the Republican Party fits in the 90s by throwing their support behind Pat Buchanan.

McCain's problem, however, doesn't lie with ideological conservatives, as they likely threw their hands up in resignation after Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson dropped out. It's Republican conservatives that McCain must somehow mollify. These Republican conservatives, who are doing most of the griping, are intensely partisan and have the largest megaphone. They dominate talk radio and blast McCain for not being a "true conservative," as Rush Limbaugh and Laura Ingraham have done while firebrand Ann Coulter recently said she would campaign for Hillary Clinton if he became the nominee.

Conventional wisdom suggests that these Republican conservatives, while quite angry, are bluffing because it is highly doubtful they are going to sit back and let Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama become the next president. After all, the next two Supreme Court retirements will likely be those of liberal Justices Ginsburg and Stevens. Surely these Republicans who are dissatisfied with McCain are cognizant enough of this to at least hold their noses and vote for him when they enter the voting booth. And surely they are passionate enough about continuing military operations in Iraq to not let their pride interfere. The same holds true for tax policy, conservative family values, and the Second Amendment. Why would they let their hatred of John McCain send a Democratic president to Washington with what will almost certainly be a Democratic House and Senate? McCain might not be the most conservative or most partisan nominee, but he's the most conservative candidate left in the race. So in the end, these conservatives will essentially "come home" in November because they have nowhere else to go.

I used to subscribe to this conventional wisdom regarding conservatives' angst about McCain. However, now I'm not so sure they are bluffing. Could it be that partisan Republican conservatives view a Hillary Clinton presidency as more delectable than a Hillary Clinton candidacy that ends with a John McCain inauguration? After all, a second Clinton presidency would provide these partisans with no shortage of material they could use to gin up their ratings and jumpstart their fundraising. And because of all the complex challenges the next president will face (particularly regarding the economy, China, and international conflict), 2008 is not really a good year to be president. Should Clinton (or Obama) become president and fail to improve these problems, the Republicans would be well-poised to stage a comeback in the 2010 midterm elections similar to their 1994 takeover. A McCain presidency would also likely result in an extended military presence in Iraq, which could spell disaster for the Republicans in 2010. And even if Iraq is not going badly, a McCain presidency would be more likely to prolong Democratic congressional control for the sake of checks and balances.

If this is really the psychology involved, it would suggest that Republican conservatives are more concerned with conflict than governance. Consider the three biggest reasons why they harbor so much animosity for John McCain in the first place:

1. He supported a compromise on illegal immigration. There are many Republicans who favor deporting all illegal immigrants and denying them all social services. However, this is impractical, as it would be impossible to locate all 10-12 million illegal immigrants and send them back to their countries of origin. And denying them an education or jobs or social services isn't going to make them go back "home" of their own accord either because being poor in America is more preferable than being poor in Guatemala, Mexico, or the Philippines.

2. He did not support all of President Bush's tax cuts. Taxes will never be low enough for anybody, regardless of their political leanings. And one can't simply keep cutting taxes without making up for the lost revenue somewhere else, especially given the military operations taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan. It seems that "fiscally responsible Republican conservatives" see nothing wrong with cutting taxes during wartime and not asking all Americans to pitch in to avoid placing our national debt on the shoulders of our children and grandchildren.

3. He actually works with politicians across the aisle. This is probably the issue that annoys partisan Republicans the most. Any Republican who works with the likes of Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton is essentially a blasphemous traitor. This kind of thinking is unfortunate, however, as it does no one any good to essentially say that half of the government (and by extension, half of the nation) doesn't matter simply because they don't agree with you. If conservatives are angry at McCain now, imagine how angry they would be if a partisan Democrat won the presidency and rammed a liberal agenda down everyone's throats. The fact that Democrats control the House and Senate show that Republicans must work with Democrats if they want to get any parts of their agenda passed because if they don't, they'll get shut out as they are in the minority.

And do these partisan conservatives honestly expect the Republican Party to control all the levers of power in Washington permanently? Al Gore received more votes than George Bush in 2000, Bush won reelection with less than 52% of the vote in 2004, and Republicans failed to pick up a single seat in 2006. The United States might have a lot of Republicans and conservatives, but there are just as many voters out there who disagree with the Republican platform and have the right to have their voices heard. That's one of the reasons why Ronald Reagan was so revered, even by Democrats and people who might not have benefited from his policies, Blue states are a part of the United States too, and given the 2006 election results, it seems more voters are willing to give the Democrats and their left-of-center ideas a chance, just like they did with the Republicans in 2002 and 2004.

However, if McCain is indeed so unpalatable, these Republicans have no one but themselves to blame for his likely nomination. Some of them who long for Mitt Romney have tried to blame Mike Huckabee for splitting the conservative vote that otherwise would have gone to him. But these criticisms don't hold water because these same conservatives who griped about Huckabee splitting the conservative vote also criticized him for being a liberal earlier on, especially regarding economic policy.

It's not McCain's fault that Mitt Romney turned out to be a lousy candidate.

It's not McCain's fault that Fred Thompson sleepwalked his way out of the race.

It's not McCain's fault that George Allen called someone a "macaca."

It's not McCain's fault that Jeb Bush's last name is "Bush."

It's not McCain's fault that George Bush is so unpopular that Jeb Bush could not run as his successor.

It's not McCain's fault that nobody paid attention to Duncan Hunter.

It's not McCain's fault that Rudy Giuliani rendered himself irrelevant by relying solely on Florida.

It's not McCain's fault that no "true" conservative entered the race this cycle.

And it certainly isn't McCain's fault that he won his primaries with 30-40% of the vote. That only means he was more acceptable to more voters than any of his rivals.

It seems like conservative Republicans have become a bit spoiled. No political party or ideology can remain on top forever. Fairly or unfairly, George Bush has been the face of the Republican Party and conservatism for the last 7 years. His unpopularity has caused many voters to tune out the same old arguments and look for something new. McCain is a conservative pragmatist who realizes that moderates, Democrats, and even liberals live in the United States too. And to successfully govern, he's going to need their support in addition to that from his own party. The fact that he knows these voters even exist rubs Republican partisans the wrong way. Bush's nonconciliatory style of governance might please the Republican base, but the nation is worse off as a whole because of it.

These partisans should be happy because their most electable candidate will likely be their party's nominee. But if they'd rather sulk and take potshots at Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama for four years instead, then they deserve to have the opposite of their political agenda enacted. Then they'll really have something to complain about. Also, if they'd rather elect an unacceptable Democrat over their own party's nominee, they will expose themselves as being rooted more in pettiness than in conservatism. And they will deserve to lose.

12 comment(s):

Nikki said...

The only thing I disagree with you on is Bush being a hardline administrator....I will stipulate that he is hard line on foreign policy but not on domestic agenda. These hard-core republicans that you mention are dissatisfied with Bush as well because of his spending and buddying up with Ted Kennedy in no child left behind, and his immigration policy not to mention his aid to Africa etc. etc. He is in the same boat as McCain in that regard. Bush isn't exactly a fiscal conservative, which was John McCains beef with the bush tax cuts......it didn't cut spending. I think you are right on the money with the rest of your post. I actually posted about it on my blog as well. I think it is interesting how Reagan gave amnesty to illegals in 1986 and he is the poster child for true conservatives right now. I agree with Bush and McCain on immigration. great post.

Thomas said...

I still can't believe these so-called conservatives are so gullible to believe that Mitt Romney is a conservative. I bet Mitt is somewhere thinking to himself, "You can fool some of the people all of the time."

Itamazesus said...

What is ironic is that McCain's strength has been backboned by his constant support of a "surge" in Iraq, which the press tells us "has been working." Actually, it does not seem to me to be working - seems like every day there's a bombing - but too late now.

Then again, no Republican (other than the fringe Ron Paul) was willing to say "It's not working; let's go to Plan B."

Some conservatives will not vote McCain, but as the polls show, he's still got a 50-50 chance in November. Those who boycott McCain will be in the same rough numbers as those on the other side who vote Green.

ConservativeMarine said...

McCain said Alito was too conservative.
McCain banded with the gang of 14, when repubs could have forced the vote on Judges. The COnstitution does not call for a super majority to approve a judge. It calls for advise and consent. Dems get their power from the bench. This is the number 1 thing about mcCain.
Add to that the following:
1) Immigration
2) Ecomnomic policy (he admits he has little grasp of it)
3) When he compromises, conservatives lose.
4) McCain Feingold!
McCain has one thing in his arsenal, foriegn policy. Beyond that, he is lacking.
On the domestic side, he has wanted to cut spending. He has had 24 years to curb earmarks/spending. They all owe too many people and he has taken earmarks.
Picture McCain standing on a stage next to Obama, in a debate. A grouchy old, out of touch man, bitter at the world, next to a vibrant young positive force. McCain loses.
As a piece of history, Reagan agreed to several things to move governemnt forward.
1) Cut spending, in return for his tax cuts. Cuts came, spending ballooned.
2) Reagan agreed to immigration/amnesty, in return, congress promised to fund border control, tighter employment proecures and better enforcement. Congress balked.
The issues moving forward are foreign policy, judges, and economic policy. In 2 out of 3, McCain is off the reservation?

Have a nice day!

Schenck said...

Hey Anthony, just came back from the Obama rally at University of Maryland... WOW. 20,000 people, 3-mile long line, tears, cheers, and hope.

Can't wait to vote for our next president tomorrow. Hillary is done.

cat said...

I get really sick of people saying "it would be impossible to deport 10-12 million illegal aliens. It's like saying "I can't eat this whole cake so I'm not going to eat any" Ok. Let's start with 5 or 6million. Let's start with 1 million of half a million. Let's START with the IDEA that these people NEED to be returned to their home of origin and get in line just like everyone else did (me included). Just saying "we can't get rid of any of them so let's just give up and let them all stay" is ridiculous. We can't stop all crime, but we sure don't give up trying. And while we're on the subject, allowing these people to sneak into the country illegally just because "they're trying to make a better life for their children" would also apply to a lot of people who STEAL. Should we just make stealing ok if you did it for the 'right reason'?

Nikki said...

Cat, your cake analogy is simplistic and overstated at the same time. Conservatives that drive the mass deportation bus aren't realistic and do treat the task as simplistic as eating cake. Who is going to pay for this massive undertaking. Remember that republicans are about less government and fiscal responsibility. Do you plan on raising taxes to pay for the extra man power this will indeed cost? And what about those illegals who have childeren born in this country, are they not citizens? You are sending the parents back to their native countries and leaving the children orphaned or sending a natural born citizen to an impoverished country? Do these children not have a right as citizens to live in this country? This issue is not as cut and dry as your cake analogy. Illegal immigrants are a huge contribution to our nations economy, they work in construction, farming, landscaping, fast food and many jobs that many Americans will not do. Nobody is letting them sneak into this country and some die trying to get in. Granting a guest worker program to illegals at least keeps track of who these illegals are and provides a way for them to pay taxes on what they are earning. Any illegal that does not apply for a guest worker permit will be under scrutiny and then "sent back". Then you have at least some that are identifiable. As a conservative I do not like this "breaking the law" stance like the "integrity of the law" is the reason for the mass deport. The reason is the conservative notion that illegals are corrupting our nation and sucking all our resources. Securing our borders is indeed an argument that should be first on the list of national security importance. But the attitude of sending all the mexicans back to mexico is rhetorical posturing for any candidate promising such an unrealistic feat. You said yourself send 5 million back.....if it is unrealistic to say that it is impossible to send even 1 million pacing then give a step by step plan to start the ball rolling. You will need to have the financial backing to support it without raising taxes. Remember there is a deficit and 2 expensive wars going on at the moment. Organize it, fund it and of course it will need to pass a hostile dominant democratic congress. And until these 3 things can be accomplished your view is in my opinion, wanting your cake and eating it too. Nikki

Brett said...

This is what happens when you indulge an ideological movement and promise them the moon for 8 years, as Bush has been willing to do. They start thinking that it's their right to power, and lose sight of the conditions it actually takes to win, much less the conditions of the political environment.

I think the Republicans have been spoiled by Bush, and by the power they held under Gingrich in the 1990s. Bush was essentially everything to everyone ideologically conservative, appealing to the hawks, the business conservatives, and the religous conservatives. In that, he was anomalous; both Reagan and Bush, while hawkish and business-oriented, kept the evangelicals at arms' length during their presidencies.

As for immigration, I'll go out and say that a large part of the American economy is utterly dependent on Mexican labor, legal or illegal. Americans, for the most part over the 20th century, have been willing to simply let this stuff fall to Mexican laborers, who are only too happy to work in those positions (and they aren't all crappy positions; construction not infrequently pays well). However, keep in mind that there is also a seasonal pattern to this, which we could recreate with the right guest worker programs. For example, from about 1967-1986 (or something like that), 28 million Mexicans came to the United States - but 23.5 million of them went back to Mexico, because they only came to work to earn money to go back to Mexico.

Anthony Palmer said...

Lots of comments to respond to here:


I maintain that Bush has been a particularly partisan president. His approval ratings among Democrats are at about 10% and independents rate him at about 25%. If he were a bit more conciliatory and a bit more respectful of the equal power of the other two branches of government, he'd have a bit more respect among more than just Republicans and conservatives. Now because Bush has nothing else to lose, he's free to govern any way he likes. One reason why the Republicans lost the 2006 elections was because voters felt he needed someone to serve as a check on his power and to help curb his partisan bent. He campaigned as being "a uniter, not a divider" in 2000, but he obviously failed in that regard. I know that you live in Utah, one of the few states where Bush probably still has a net positive rating, but in the rest of the country, people are quite angry or disappointed with Bush. Some of them are angry because of partisan reasons and will never give Bush credit for anything, but they're just as bad as the president they're villifying. Others are more open-minded, but genuinely angry at the way he has managed the government over the past 7 years.

Anyway, I think a lot of Republicans are turning a blind eye to Bush's failings, but will have an eagle eye on them whenever the next Democratic president enters the White House. And similarly, a lot of Democrats are screaming bloody murder about Bush's failings now, but won't say a peep when a Democrat is entrusted with the keys to the country. Partisanship works both ways. But because the current president is a Republican, that's why I'm speaking mainly of Republicans' irrationality.



Romney was a terrible candidate. And these conservatives who rallied to him at the very end are the same ones who called him "flip flop Mitt" earlier on. Sounds like fair weather friends to me. I really think Republicans need a new face to carry the torch of conservatism because as it stands now, the conservative brand is tarnished, and Republican politicians are (fairly or unfairly) tainted by what Bush has done in the name of conservatism and Republicanism.



I get the sense that Iraq has lost some of its potency as well. It's as if the success of the surge has taken the issue off the table even though lives are still being lost, money is still being spent, and nobody really knows what the endgame is in Iraq. I, for one, hope everything works out and that not too many more lives will be lost, but as long as people like McCain spin these kinds of thoughts as advocating a policy of surrender, he will be demolished in November--even by Clinton.


Conservative Marine,

That is quite the list of reasons why Republicans don't like McCain. I don't dispute any of those. However, in many of those cases, McCain bucked the party line for the sake of getting something more feasible accomplished. After all, even when the GOP had the majority in the Senate, they still had to placate Democrats who had the power of the filibuster. The Senate is designed for compromise with the minority, unlike the House, which is designed for steamrolling the minority. National Journal ranks McCain as being more conservative than about 80% of the current senators. Is that not acceptable? And if it's not, then why didn't conservatives unite behind another candidate? They certainly had their chances.



The recent Clinton shakeup involving dropping one of her campaign strategists shows that her campaign is in trouble. It looks like it will all come down to Texas and Ohio on March 4. I think Clinton can hold Texas, but I think Ohio is a real threat to her.

Having said that, I still can't help but feel that there is more than enough room for a moderate, pragmatic independent in the race. There's not a lot of difference between Clinton and Obama except in terms of their approach to politics. And McCain is more conservative than many voters realize. Huckabee has tapped into the Reagan Democrat wing of the electorate (socially conservative populists), but who represents the Rockefeller Republican wing of the electorate?



I understand your argument, but the point I was trying to make is that just deporting illegal aliens isn't going to solve the problem. You have to remove the incentive for them to come here illegally in the first place. And Nikki is absolutely right--who's going to pay for this? Do you want your taxes to be used to deport people who shouldn't even be here to begin with? Comparing illegal immigration with stealing is a bit of a stretch because stealing doesn't have anything to do with taxes, public safety, and national security. But I do agree that deporting whoever you can is a start, even if you can't remove them all. But again, until you can secure the borders and take away the reasons why they want to come in the first place, you are essentially spinning your wheels and wasting taxpayer money because they'll keep coming back.



Yes, the GOP has been spoiled. 5 out of the past 7 presidents have been Republicans. Republicans controlled the House for the first 6 years of Bush's presidency and also controlled the Senate for about 5 of those 6 years. I think a lot of voters think that "the Republicans have had their chance" and do not like where the party has led the nation and are now willing to look elsewhere.

Bush was essentially the consummate Republican who kept the business wing happy with tax cuts and weak environmental protections, kept evangelicals happy with his Supreme Court appointments, and kept the defense hawks happy with his Iraq policy and chest-thumping with Iran. The problem is, this kind of candidate could never be elected again in the current electoral climate. Conservative Republicans want another Bush-like president, but too many more voters don't. So once these conservative Republicans step outside of their bubble, maybe they'd realize that the best way to keep their interests represented in the White House is to nominate a candidate who has at least some level of appeal to moderates and independents even if he is largely conservative at his core.

Thanks for the comments everyone.

Thomas said...

Conservativemarine, I don't understand your dislike of the "Gang of 14" solution. The thing is...it worked out in the Republican's favor. The Democrats preserved the right to filibuster judges which they never used against John Roberts or Samuel Alito. Plus for being allowed to keep the filibuster, Democrats let some controversial lower court nominees pass through.

I also imagine Republicans will be happy to use the filibuster to torpedo some of President Obama's judicial picks.

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

well if Barak winx, but looses via super delegates it will be likerunning into a brick wall for the dems

Freadom said...

I agree with you on much of what you said, and particularly Nikki explained what I wanted to write here. Bush was conservative on some issues, like the war & taxes, but on many issues he was way to liberal for conservatives, and that's one of the reasons his poll numbers are so low (IMO), and why conservatives hate McCain so much, because they think he will just be another Bush in that regard.

The last two republican nominees who did not have the support of the conservative base (Dole and Ford), lost in the general election. For McCain to change this trend, he's going to have to come up with a nifty strategy.

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