Sunday, January 27, 2008

McCain's Right-Wing Enemies

I've posted a few times on the conservative backlash against GOP frontrunner John McCain (here, here, and here).

Internal ideological divisions are a natural part of the nomination process, but the nastiness this season has nevertheless been unsettling.

Here's Wordsmith's take on developments on the right,
from Sparks on the Anvil:

One of the things that has been bugging me of late, is the toxicity on the right....

I am talking about this need amongst conservatives (especially in the blogosphere) to demonize Republicans like John McCain....

I think the anger being expressed by some, is not genuine anger, but vague resentment by those merely regurgitating the mood of the conservative 'sphere. Which leaves conservatives baffled and scratching their heads when someone they anoint as a "true conservative", like Duncan Hunter, turns around and endorses Mike Huckabee (much ridiculed as inept on foreign policy, and derided as a Democrat in sheepdog's clothing). Or how about Fred Thompson's friendship with John McCain, along with the rumors of a McCain endorsement, in the event that Fred endorse anyone at all?
Would Ronald Reagan be "conservative enough" for the harsh crowd today, who populate the "angry-as-hell" fellowship of right-wingers (many claiming to be "Reaganites")? How does one rationalize away, the number of prominent military generals who have given their endorsement to McCain's candidacy (most recently, General Norman Schwarzkopf)? Are these all RINOs? Have they "sold us out"? We scratch our heads, not understanding, but I believe this is because we conservatives somewhat live in our own echo chamber, within the blogosphere. 67% support of Fred Thompson amongst bloggers gives us the impression that Fred's got "Joementum"; when in reality, it's McCain who's got the "Joementum" on his side.
The controversy's all over conservative talk radio. Stephen Hayes over at the Weekly Standard offer his take on things:

For two weeks, as the Republican presidential race moved south and he notched important victories in New Hampshire and South Carolina, John McCain has been subject to a series of withering attacks from the stars of talk radio and other prominent conservatives.
Hayes rightly notes that McCain brings on a lot of this himself, by openly defying the GOP on some of the most hot-button issues of the day. But check Hayes' discussion of McCain's conservative critics, especially Rush Limbaugh's henchmen, starting with former Senator Rick Santorum:

Like so many McCain critics, Limbaugh turned to former Senator Rick Santorum--"whose conservative credentials are beyond question"--as an expert witness. "I don't hardly agree with him on hardly any issues," Santorum said.

Really? Santorum's lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union is 88. John McCain's is 82.3. One would suppose there might be some overlap. The difference between a real conservative and a phony one apparently lies in those six points.

Although many others have been as critical of McCain, perhaps no one has been as hypocritical. In 2006, when Santorum was running for reelection, he asked McCain to come to Pennsylvania to campaign on his behalf. When McCain obliged, Santorum put the video on his campaign website, listing it first among "key events" of the year. That's gratitude, Santorum-style.

Other conservative politicians--or former politicians--have taken their anti-McCain arguments to absurd lengths. Take Tom DeLay, for instance, whose K Street pandering led to numerous indictments and contributed greatly to the Republican losses in 2006. The former House majority leader said, without a trace of irony in his voice, that John McCain "has done more to hurt the Republican party than any elected official I know of."
Mark Levin, a longtime confidant of both Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity who now hosts his own increasingly popular talk show, took the anti-McCain argument a step further on his show last Wednesday. "At this point, anybody who supports John McCain and claims to be a conservative, let me be blunt: You're not a conservative."

Which came as a surprise to Jack Kemp, the ardent supply-sider who was the conservative alternative to George H.W. Bush in 1988. "That's just so preposterous," said Kemp. "I don't agree with McCain on several things. He's gotten right on the economy. He's right on foreign policy. And he's right on the war on terror."

And no doubt a surprise also to Phil Gramm (lifetime ACU rating of 95), whose presidential campaign was endorsed by National Review in 1996. And to Sam Brownback, a stalwart conservative and one of the most outspoken pro-life politicians in America today. And to Tom Coburn from Oklahoma, arguably the most conservative member of the Senate.

"John McCain and I have stood side by side on many issues," Coburn said in endorsing McCain last week. The most important, he added, are "fiscal responsibility" and the "sanctity of human life."

Most of the rank-and-file conservatives supporting McCain point to his leadership on Iraq and his leadership on defense issues. Richard Allen, national security adviser to Ronald Reagan, made this point in an email he sent January 3, the night of the Iowa caucuses, to a small group of longtime conservatives.

I was early on a Fred Thompson supporter, worked with him, thought he would have the capacity to grow to a major force. Won't go into the details, but I was impressed. For all sorts of reasons, I suspect, there has been no policy bloom there. Not an issue of fine character, because that he has--it has to do with policy.
Allen continued:

John McCain is our best and safest choice. Some cannot forgive past transgressions on campaign finance or other matters. But when you stop to reflect on the matter, with whom--among all those out there--are we really going to be more secure, and who has the understanding of BOTH foreign policy issues and national security issues we face? I've spent all my adult life, more than five decades, in these vineyards. They matter to me, as I know they do to all of you. I say it's McCain.
So what if Republican primary voters say it's McCain? Can there be a rapprochement with some of his conservative critics?

Levin, who has been as critical of McCain as anyone, has not ruled out supporting him. "If he does squeak through, I'll have to figure out what I'm going to do about it. We'll see. We'll see."
I doubt Levin will come around to McCain's banner any time soon. He's continued his McCain takedown this with a defense of Mitt Romney's intemperate musings on Iraq benchmarks, over at the National Review (via Memeorandum).

Josh Marshall from the Talking Points Memo provides an overview of the GOP battle as we head to Florida's GOP primary on Tuesday, via

I'll have more analysis as events develop.

Hat tip:


UPDATE: Levin's calling McCain a liar in a post this morning over at National Review, with reference to the Arizona Senator's appearance on Meet the Press this morning:

The hard-driving Tim Russert blew it. He allowed McCain to slip away with his dishonest characterization of Romney's statement, i.e., Romney never said he favored a specific time for withdrawal. McCain read the first part of the quote but not the second part, where Romney would veto a congressional time table. By now, everyone who is carefully following this knows that McCain's allegation is flatly false. The quotes and video the McCain campaign have provided to reporters, and which have been posted on the Corner and elsewhere, do not support McCain's allegation. The liberal AP, New York Times, and writer for Time have all correctly (for once) said that McCain's charge is not supported by the supposed evidence. And yet, McCain and his campaign persist in trying to link Romney to Hillary Clinton with a demonstrably false charge.
I've read those passages closely myself, and frankly, the intpretation can go both ways. Like I said earlier, I'll bet Romney's pinching himself for making those benchmarks statements. McCain saw an opening, seized it, and has won the media cycle.

The McCain campaign may not have gottent that big of a boost out of the dust-up (or the effects remain to be seen), according the the findings from
Zogby's Florida GOP running poll:

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has drawn even with Arizona Sen. John McCain in the Republican presidential nomination fight in Florida, the latest Reuters/C-SPAN/Zogby telephone tracking poll shows.

And there is drama in the wings as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee has surpassed former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, 14% to 13%. Giuliani, who has invested most of his time and campaign treasure into Tuesday’s Florida vote, is finding his support slipping away. In yesterday’s tracking poll, he was in third place.

Nine percent of likely voting Republicans in Florida remained undecided.

This release is the second in a series of three-day tracking polls leading up to Tuesday’s primary. The telephone poll included 814 likely voters and carries a margin of error of +/-3.4 percentage points.

McCain had a slim 32% to 29% lead over Romney among men, while Romney had a 30% to 28% lead among women. More men than women liked Giuliani, with the genders giving him 14% and 11% support respectively. Women, however, liked Huckabee a bit more, as 15% of them said they backed him. Just 13% of men supported Huckabee.
See more analysis at Memeorandum.