Saturday, March 31, 2007

McCain's Catch-22 with Conservatives

In a recent cover story for National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru concluded that "it would be a remarkably narrow definition of conservatism that excluded [John] McCain." Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard—which supported McCain over Bush in 2000—agrees and explains why "the candidate with the most conservative record of the top contenders is the least liked by conservatives":

[Conservatives are] willing to give Giuliani enormous slack, despite his liberalism on social issues and his disheveled personal life. They excuse Romney's numerous switches from liberal to conservative positions. But conservatives vigorously resist McCain. They make no allowance for his liberal digressions on issues such as campaign finance, gun control, stem cell research, President Bush's tax cuts, or global warming. And they give him little or no credit for favoring the reversal of Roe v. Wade, or for supporting the extension of the Bush tax cuts he had originally voted against, or even for his unblemished record as a hawk on national security. Yes, politics is unfair. . . .

The aversion to McCain is often visceral. James Dobson, the Christian conservative who runs Focus on the Family, says he prayed about the Republican presidential campaign and concluded that he couldn't vote for McCain "under any circumstances." Charles Cunningham, the Washington lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, says he won't even consider supporting McCain. Conservative ex-senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania insists McCain "is not one of us and doesn't want to be". . . .

Santorum . . . doesn't trust McCain. And it's exactly that—a lack of trust—that hampers McCain in appealing to conservatives. McCain votes like a social conservative, "but I believe as soon as he gets in office [as president] he'll jettison any social conservative issues. He follows the New York Times, not conservatives. He takes more pleasure in defeating conservative causes than in joining them. People see that."

Update (4/1): Matthew Continetti, an editor at the Weekly Standard, in a recent op-ed in the NYT, cuts through the hemming and hawing:

While Mr. McCain and the conservative activists who compose the Republican grassroots share many positions—pro-war, pro-life, against waste in government and for low taxes—a significant portion of those grassroots just ... doesn’t ... like him.