Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Coming GOP Train Wreck?

Victor Hanson published a piece on the conservative controversy at National Review earlier. Here's the introduction:

Ever since I wrote a favorable column about John McCain, I have been swamped with furious e-mail from outraged conservatives, alleging this and that, and going through in systematic fashion the usual litany-McCain-Feingold, illegal immigration, tax cuts, global warming, etc. McCain seems to anger many conservatives as much as, or more than, Hillary.

Collating this anger, and comparing it to the anti-McCain NRO Corner postings the last two weeks — all in the context of McCain winning a conservative state last night, and leading in many of the polls in Florida — reminds me of the train wreck facing the Republican party of whether they might want a 1964 washout or to maintain the White House. I think a growing consensus is that McCain, and perhaps Giuliani, alone have an outside shot of edging out Clinton and/or Obama.
Here's Hanson today:

It is clear that the animus toward McCain shown by Romney supporters is growing far greater than any distaste those who support McCain feel for Romney. I am sympathetic to the McCain effort, but would of course, like most, support Romney should he get the nomination, given his experience, intelligence and positions on the war and the economy. I would worry about his ability to win independents and cross-overs, and note that his present positions are sometimes antithetical to his past ones, but also note that such concerns would be balanced by the recognition that it is hard for conservatives to get elected to anything in Massachusetts, that McCain in turn would have commensurate problems stirring the conservative base, and that McCain too has 'adjusted' on things like immigration et alia.

I am not being wishy-washy or suggesting that there would not be differences in their respective governance, simply that either candidate on the most critical issues-the war, restraining spending, closing the border, appointing judges-would be vastly superior to the Clinton centaur. It is important that the two fight it out, air their differences, and display their tenacity, and experience, so that voters can see in the present cauldron who would be the more effective and tempered party leader later on in the autumn.

But all that said, at some point there should be recognition that some are becoming so polarized-and polarizing-that we are reaching the point that should a McCain win (and there is a good chance he will), and should he grant the necessary concessions to the base (chose someone like Thompson as his VP, take firm pledges on tax cuts, closing the border, etc), go on Limbaugh, Hannity, etc. for some mea culpas, all that still seemingly would not be enough. And if that were true, the result would vastly increase the chances of the Presidents Clinton, under whom there would be a vastly different Supreme Court, some chance of forfeiting what has been achieved in Iraq, and surely greater growth in government and earmarks.

While this strife continues, we forget that the President Bush has a 35% approval rating, that the economy is touchy, that there was a Republican ethics mess in 2005-6-and yet with all that-and given the amazing Cinton-Obama fratricide-there is an outside chance the more conservative candidate can still win in November. Keeping all that in mind seems far more important than tracing down the anonymous source who claims McCain said something to someone at sometime.
In response, Mark Levin cries foul this afternoon:

We’re all adults here, and it is annoying to be lectured by VDH, who clearly likes McCain based on past posts here and elsewhere. Nothing I have posted or read here from others — pro- or con- McCain or Romney — has been out of bounds by anyone. In fact, it has been very civil and edifying. These are flawed candidates, in my view, and some are more flawed than others. The cloakroom post by Ramesh barely touches the surface of what, in fact, is a serious temperament issue with McCain. And there are senators, on the record, complaining about it. You don’t see posts like that about Romney or, for that matter, Bush 41, Bush 43, Bob Dole, Ronald Reagan, etc. The only other prominent figure who appears to have this issue is Bill Clinton.

But what of the McCain attacks on Romney, including some of these robo-phone calls, the Romney withdrawal nonsense (the white flag of surrender and comparison to Hillary Clinton) — which took all Saturday to unravel, and the “management for profit vs. leadership out of patriotism” line, and so forth? Is VDH troubled by any of this? If so, it didn’t prompt him to post, as best as I can tell.

I would encourage folks here to continue to post what they know or learn here. This is the forum for that. Candidates know how to contact NRO through various contacts and post their views and responses, and are doing so. If McCain is nominated, I sure hope he and his supporters grow thicker skins. They’re going to need them. Urging people to suppress their serious and substantive doubts about McCain, which might not be as pronounced to some in Romney’s case, is pointless — as it should be.

As for support for McCain should he get the nomination, he has shown little loyalty to his party. Why does VDH think so many in the party and conservative movement are so alienated by him? It’s a combination of betrayal (as Tom Sowell put it) and issues. Romney may have taken non-conservative positions during his political career in Massachusetts but didn’t build that career on antagonizing the base.

Look, this is a debate that’s going to continue for some time — and that’s the point.
In other words, chief NRO Rush-bot Levin's going down with the ship in the event of a McCain sweep next week on Super Tuesday.

We'll see how long the battle lasts, which may indeed be a while, since anti-McCainiacs have
staked their reputations on winning the fight.

here and here for more on the controversy.


UPDATE: Hanson has responded to Levin:

I rest my case, and suggest most of the subsequent reactions will only prove it further.

A note: I didn't lecture anyone, just made an observation. And, of course, I was referencing the relative degree of animus shown by respective supporters toward their rival candidates, not, as suggested, the inevitable bickering and counter-bickering among the candidates themselves. I couldn't begin to sort out who said what untruth first about the other, or to suggest that in the past McCain hasn't snubbed conservatives gratuitously or that Romney didn't run a lot of early attack ads.

Nor did I suggest that anyone should stop gathering evidence. Again, the point was the need for some perspective-that in the middle of a war, and a presidential race that will promise to be hellish in the fall, there are more important issues than wondering about what someone says a candidate said to someone else.

I offered a simple observation about the here and now, and as one who neither knows anyone running either campaign nor has any influence. I expand on it a last time sine ira et studio:

As of now (who knows by tomorrow?) the race is shaping up in strange fashion: there are a number of Democrats and Independents who are increasingly turned off by the underhanded Clintons, for both right and wrong reasons. They may well vote for McCain, mostly for his perceived character and war record, but also, yes, rightly or wrongly, for his past "moderation." I doubt they will do so for Romney or sit out a Romney-Clinton show-down. (Critics, no doubt, will counter that conservatives of all stripes (if tempers cool) would rally around Romney no matter what, and such unity would outnumber any potential crossover voters lost by his nomination.)

By the same token, there are a number of conservatives who (more on ideology and principle rather than due to anger at character flaws as in the case of the Clinton turn-off) simply will not vote for McCain under any circumstances.

So if the election comes down to a McCain versus the Clintons, as I think is the most likely scenario, it may well be decided by a simple calculus in the fall:

Is the more liberal anti-Clinton group that is willing to vote for a Republican nominee larger or smaller than the latter more conservative anti-McCain block who apparently won't vote for their own Republican nominee?

Lots hinge on the answer.