The Anti-McCain Republicans

William Kristol notes the dissatisfaction of some Republicans with the idea of John McCain as their presidential standard bearer:

The prospect of John McCain as the likely Republican presidential nominee has produced a squall of anger on the right. Normally reserved columnists and usually ebullient talk-radio hosts vie to express their disgust with McCain, and their disdain for the Republicans who are about to nominate him. The conservative movement as a whole appears disgruntled and dyspeptic.


This is an important moment for the conservative movement. Not because conservatives have some sort of obligation to fall in behind John McCain. They don’t. Those conservatives who can’t abide McCain are free to rally around Mitt Romney. And if McCain does prevail for the nomination, conservatives are free to sit out the election.

But I’d say this to them: When the primaries are over, if McCain has won the day, don’t sulk and don’t sit it out. Don’t pretend there’s no difference between a candidate who’s committed to winning in Iraq and a Democratic nominee who embraces defeat. Don’t tell us that it doesn’t matter if the next president voted to confirm John Roberts and Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court, or opposed them. Don’t close your eyes to the difference between pro-life and pro-choice, or between resistance to big government and the embrace of it.

I won’t deny that McCain isn’t a perfect candidate from the standpoint of some Republicans, particularly those with libertarian leanings (who are disproportionately represented in the blogosphere). Rick Moran has produced a pretty good bill of indictment. I think that a good proportion of the reaction against McCain is because they’ve been sold a bill of goods.

I haven’t done the research so I may well be wrong but I don’t remember these charges, i.e. that McCain “isn’t a real conservative” or is a RINO, before he ran against GWB, the anointed candidate of the party establishment, in 2000. If that’s true there are really only three likely explanations, that they’re reacting to things he’s done since 2000, that the party has changed since 2000, or that my speculation is correct and they’re buying a load of propaganda.

Support for my view is that McCain’s voting record post-2000 is virtually identical to Fred Thompson’s and we’re not hearing these same charges made against Thompson.

It also may be personal. McCain can be cantankerous and that may have made some enemies within his own party.

However, as I’ve been saying for some time, the future of the White House may depend on Republicans’ survival instinct. If national Republicans have the same lemming-like urge to self-destruction that Illinois Republican patently have, they’ll nominate Mitt Romney, who’ll be handily defeated by either Clinton or Obama.

From my point of view, McCain is a Republican of a fairly venerable stamp—a defense hawk and a deficit hawk (IMO the most attractive aspects of the old Republican Party) who is otherwise pragmatic rather than ideological and absolutist. I think his positions on, for example, immigration and campaign finance reform are pragmatic, choosing to make lemonade with the lemons at hand. Otherwise he’s a decent, honorable guy on the side of the angels on issues like torture and stabilizing Iraq.

19 comments… add one
  • PD Shaw Link

    I think the issue is, as William F. Buckley put it, that McCain is conservative, but not “a conservative.” His positions are idiosyncratic and not formed by movement philosophies. So even though Bush federalized education with Kennedy, pushed prescription drugs on his party and tried to advance immigration amnesty, these were all done within the conceit of “compassionate conservatism” and any errors performed in its name can later be corrected by steering the movement back on course. McCain threatens to replace the movement philosophies with his personal views.

    Romney OTOH has sought to build support among the thee legs of modern conservatism and even though his conversion is recent, he is less likely to damage the movement in the way McCain could.

  • But I’d say this to them: When the primaries are over, if McCain has won the day, don’t sulk and don’t sit it out. Don’t pretend there’s no difference between a candidate who’s committed to winning in Iraq and a Democratic nominee who embraces defeat.

    Is it true that Hillary (who still seems the most likely Democratic candidate) embraces defeat? While I favor McCain’s positions on the particulars more than I like Hillary’s, she has (mostly) been a hawk on this issue. I take all of her efforts to make her position sound like something it hasn’t been to be typical Clintonian shiftiness to get elected.

    Don’t tell us that it doesn’t matter if the next president voted to confirm John Roberts and Samuel Alito for the Supreme Court, or opposed them.

    Fair enough. But the nasty truth is this: The fact that the Courts have as much power as they do is the problem for many of us, not who has the power.

    Don’t close your eyes to the difference between pro-life and pro-choice…

    As a matter of philosophy, I don’t want the Federal government involved either way. Would McCain have the feds step away from this issue, or would he not? Does he favor a constitutional ammendment, or not?

    According to his website, the answers appear to be ‘Yes’ and ‘No’. But in reality, this is a moot point. Roe v Wade and related rulings are unlikely to be over-turned.

    or between resistance to big government and the embrace of it.

    Hmm, let’s see. McCain has been in favor of higher taxes, increased federal intrusion into the election process (with attendent intrusion into political speech) and has been quite willing through the years to throw his weight around to benefit political donors. (That’s the short list.) As I see it, the main objection McCain has had to increased federal government is that he does not want ICE to actually do its job.

    And here’s a quote from McCain’s website:

    Require any state receiving Medicaid to develop a financial “risk adjustment” bonus to high-cost and low-income families to supplement tax credits and Medicaid funds.

    Ah, yes, he’s pledging to continue to use federal dollars to further destroy the political indepence of the states. Fantastic. (Yes, I know that this battle has been long lost. But don’t sell me the bill of goods that he wants a smaller less powerful central government when clearly he’s quite happy with such a beast.)

    So, as a (soon to be ex-)Republican, why should I want to vote for this guy? After the last decade or so of Texas Republicanism (Delay & Bush) one has to wonder if the Republican Party now stands for anything except its own preservation and electoral success. “We’re awful, but we’re not as awful as the other guys” doesn’t cut it anymore.

  • PD Shaw, I don’t think most of the small government conservatives particularly care for Bush. He’s certainly been anathema to our positions.

  • Icepick, neither of the two Democratic candidates left standing support withdrawal from Iraq. As best as I’ve been able to determine, Clinton’s stated position is to withdraw “combat troops” from Iraq while leaving forces in Iraq substantial enough for force protection, training the Iraqi army, undertaking occasional combat operations. In other words, drawing back down to the pre-Surge levels. That’s going to happen anyway whether under Bush, Clinton, McCain, Obama, or Romney. The military realities require it.

    Obama’s position is to withdraw our troops from Iraq. Or leave them there. Or put them somewhere else handy to keep the situation in Iraq under control. Under President Obama that will come down to a position indistinguishable from Bush’s, Clinton’s, or Romney’s.

    In my view the rhetorical position of the Democratic candidates are window dressing for the obvious necessity of putting lipstick on this pig. We’ll be in Iraq a long, long time. They can always blame it on Bush.

  • PD Shaw Link

    Icepick, it strikes me that a lot of the hostility being expressed towards McCain is simply redirected anger at Bush. Bush signed McCain-Feingold and helped expend federal government in a whole host of ways. While there were grumblings in the blogoshpere, I think a broader political critique was rather muted. If there had been one, a credible candidate representing this group could have emerged. The failure I think is due to the fact that most Conservatives saw the WOT as the number one issue and were afraid to weaken an already shaky President. One of the questions for Conservatives will be whether the WOT is still the number one issue and whether there are discernible differences between the candidates.

  • The withdrawal of Giuliani has made me into a McCain supporter. (Yes I know that you are no fan of Giuliani’s.) And I’ve mentioned that McCain has an 82 rating from the ACU. My assumption was that McCain was conservative but when he differed with the base he did it in a very public and antagonistic way. However, this article shows that he has become decidedly less conservative (at least by ACU standards) since 2000. Maybe some of it is antagonism he feels towards Bush, but I couldn’t say for certain.

  • Icepick, neither of the two Democratic candidates left standing support withdrawal from Iraq.

    Sorry, I hadn’t stated my point clearly above. I know that Hillary’s position is basically status quo. Obama is rhetorically more ‘defeatist’ than Hillary, but as far as I can discern he hasn’t allowed himself to be pinned to a specific policy position. Here’s one area where Bush has been an indisputable success, politically: changing direction now will require the acceptance of disasterous consequences. For all intents and purposes, the Bush foreign policy is likely to continue for several years after he leaves office.

  • Icepick, it strikes me that a lot of the hostility being expressed towards McCain is simply redirected anger at Bush.

    Perhaps for some, but I’ve been ‘hostile’ towards McCain since back in the 1990s, anyway. I’ve never particularly cared for him as a politician.

    The failure I think is due to the fact that most Conservatives saw the WOT as the number one issue and were afraid to weaken an already shaky President.

    That’s pretty much why I held my nose and voted for Bush in 2004. If the Dems had put forward a candidate who had been more credible on the national security front in 2004 they may well have the Presidency that year.

    One of the questions for Conservatives will be whether the WOT is still the number one issue and whether there are discernible differences between the candidates.

    True. But that requires two conditionals to be answered affirmatively, and then for a value judgement on the second question. I imagine that a substantial number of conservatives will come to the conclusion that McCain won’t make any difference on these issues. That it will hurt him in the fall. Whether or not he can pick up enough Dems and Indies to make up the difference is another question.

  • I cannot vote for McCain, because of McCain-Feingold, because of his obvious corruption (at least in the past, and I happen to think such things don’t change in a person very often), and because he more or less represents my positions on exactly one issue, the war. If Clinton is the Democrat nominee and McCain the Republican, the only issue that I could see that might make me even think about McCain is the appointment of judges. But given his “Gang of 14” stance, even that is pretty uncertain.

    In other words, since I cannot in good conscience vote for either Clinton or Obama, and since I cannot in good conscience vote for McCain (and I’m skeptical about Romney), and since I cannot vote for the Libertarians because of the war issue, this may be the first election since I started voting where I write in a name for President.

  • PD Shaw Link

    I’m sure by the national elections, we’ll all have someone to vote AGAINST. The candidates will make sure of that.

    FWIW, I am a registered independent, who will not be voting in the Illinois primaries tomorrow. Since I am a man without firm ideological convictions, I feel the need to stick up for McCain, but I’m not sure if I’d vote for him. It probably depends on (a) the likelihood of Democratic majorities, (b) the national security gulf separating the major candidates and (c) who McCain picks for VP.

  • PD Shaw Link

    Jeff, didn’t you hold your nose and vote for Bush who campaigned in 2000 in support of some version of McCain/Feingold and then signed it?

  • Not exactly. In 2000, I voted Libertarian. In 2004, I voted for Bush because (and only because) I knew he would fight the war harder than Kerry would have done. Would Kerry have stuck it out on Iraq, as Bush has done, to where victory is in sight? Clearly not, since he ran on a platform of retreat from Iraq. The Libertarians have lost me until the war is over.

    The issue is not so clear when comparing Clinton to McCain or Romney; they would all be roughly as bad as Bush has been on upholding the Constitution or being sound stewards of the public purse, and would all fight. I do not think Obama would fight, so if he is the nominee, and looks like he will have a close run in my state, I might have to vote even for McCain. Have I mentioned how much I dislike the two-party system?

  • dennis Link

    I am afraid that this lifelong republican will vote for obama before I vote for mccain and will abstain if hillary is nominated. mccain feingold has gotten us george sorous and his stand on immigration gets us nowhere. and he has been in the senate long enough to deal with immigration and he does represent arizona so that he was well aware of the damage to his state and still did nothing.

  • While I fully understand the angst of Conservatives in their policy opposition to John McCain blunders like Illegal immigration, Conservatives are beginning to amaze me in their inability to see the larger picture.

    Many talk radio hosts have battled a McCain nomination. Even Focus On The Family Director Dr. Dobson (who I admire ) has declared his refusal to vote for McCain. This astonishes me because it’s the same as saying “if I don’t get the conservative I want, I’ll let the country go to hell in a hand basket:” This, in my opinion is very naive and unthoughtful – since our children will be growing up in the aftermath of such a decision.

    Anti McCain pundits and commentators such as Rush Limbaugh have ventured the idea that perhaps we should sit this election out and let the Dems have a term in office, claiming it might pave the way for a future shot at a candidate he and others will like in four years.

    While I understand these expressions of dismay, I think it’s shortsighted. Imagine the damage our country will endure if Democrats control all three branches of government for 4 to 8 years. .

    This would give liberals what they will treat as a clear sign from America that is it ready to move sharply to the left. Conservatism will lose most of it’s teeth and the liberal agenda could easily reverse all of the progress we’ve made in the war on terror, Tax reduction, Pro Life, and other extremely important issue.

    We can always address the issue of immigration again in 4 years. What we cannot afford to see happen is a liberal agenda that makes illegal immigration the least of our country’s problems. Our country may be so torn up, it won’t have the time to even visit the issue, like we can today.

    There is no such thing as a quick recovery from 4 years of liberalism unchecked. We may be facing what will take years and years of damage to undo. What’s more, there’s no guarantee that it WILL be undone. The passage of even one single liberal law is extremely difficult to outlaw – as if Roe V Wade hasn’t taught us this already!

    Rush Limbaugh and others may revel in 4 years of liberal destruction as a talk radio host who can use the material, however all it takes is one liberal judge appointed to the Supreme Court to unravel the one ace we’ve achieved in the last 8 years. This doesn’t occur to me as a smart decision for Conservatives to be making..

    As Evangelical Conservatives know, Pride commeth before the fall, and I hope they will study that verse before deciding to approach this election with dismay rather than enthusiasm.

    Questioning McCain was right and highly useful for a time and a season. But there are greater threats looming on our horizon than John McCain.

    It’s time to put our differences aside and get with the business assuring our children, they will not grow up in a socialist, liberally dominated world. This may be our cross roads, and it is certainly no time to be staying home on Election Day.

    Danny Vice
    The Weekly Vice

    ThaLunatic Daily

  • John McCain just might be a bigger fraud than George W. Bush. As a Vietnam veteran who was shot down twice (1968-69), I’m sick of McCain riding this POW horse to death. Article III of the United States Military Code of Conduct states: “If I am captured I will continue to resist by all means available. I will make every effort to escape and to aid others to escape. I will accept neither parole nor special favors from the enemy.”

    If McCain was persistent in trying to escape, and trying to aid others in doing so, let him prove it. Getting shot down is one thing, allowing yourself to be captured, and then just laying there like a worm for years and years is quite another. He has cowered likewise in the Senate. He skipped a Senate vote on whether to make 20 million seniors and 250,000 disabled veterans eligible for rebate checks as part of a proposed economic stimulus package. He has missed all eight Senate roll call votes so far this year. I don’t care how he would have voted, but I do care that he didn’t have the courage to vote one way or the other.

    Does McCain put his country or party first? Here, I’ll let him tell you.

    “I do hope that at some point we would just calm down a little bit and see if there are areas that we can agree on for the good of the party and for the good of the country.” -John McCain 02/07/08

    All my party, the Republican Party, can talk about is beating Hillary Clinton. Had we not beat Al Gore or even John Kerry, it would have been impossible to have done worse than we did. I’ve got news for you Clinton haters, there’s no doubt that she can spell words that the imbecile in the White House can’t pronounce. More bad news, there’s a guy out there named Barack Obama with more vision and direction in his little finger than McCain has in his whole body, and I’m not the only American who has noticed this North Star.

    I’m Bob Miller, a registered Republican and a 100% service connected disabled veteran, and it’s my opinion that John McCain epitomizes the word “imposter”. I will concede this: if it’s another George W. Bush that the American people want in the White House, McCain will be perfect.

  • S.D.M. Link

    Thank you, Bob for sticking to your guns. When John McCain was busy stabbing his own party in the back, I have no doubt he was calculating on Republican voters having short memories. But many of us will never forget. I will vote third party, Democrat, or not at all rather than vote for this turncoat.

    Unfortunately, too many members of the current Republican party establishment are getting behind McCain just to save their own skins. My question is simply this: as the party continues to move to the left, how long are we willing to move along with it before we draw a line in the sand and say: enough. You keep moving to the left, but we’re getting off the boat. I, for one, have just abandoned ship.

    I’m also tired of Republican scare tactics to try to persuade disgruntled voters to hold their nose and vote for McCain. How, for example, can one claim he is tough on defense, when he is a strong supporter of open borders and amnesty for illegals? And do you actually believe Hillary or Obama will really cut and run in Iraq? Not a chance. Their rhetoric is intended to appease the far left. When they take office, we will still be in Iraq for many years to come. As for supreme court appointees, even if McCain nominates another Roberts or Thomas, the already Democrat controlled congress (almost certain to increase their majority this fall) will shoot it down anyway. the fact is, McCain will offer nothing significantly different than the Dems as president. So let’s bite the bullet; let this pretender take the fall, and rebuild the Republican party by purging it of it’s left leaning moderates.

  • Patrick Rolling Link

    I am a not as Conservative as most members of my party but I am with Limbaugh and Hannity on sitting this one out. McCain has not shown loyal support to the beliefs of the party and I do not feel he deserves loyal support in return. The fact he would even consider Lieberman for Veep is reason enough to vote against him(Lieberman is a good man, but not a Republican).

  • Dear Glittering Eye Team:

    Hello. I am writing to ask for your help with a survey which is part of my dissertation project. I was wondering if you would be willing to post a link to the survey on your blog? Your help would be greatly appreciated, and I think you and your readers would be ideal candidates for the survey.

    The survey is about people’s reactions to the presidential candidates in the upcoming election

    If you are willing to help, please post the following information:

    The purpose of this survey is to examine how people think and feel about the political issues, parties, and candidates in the upcoming election. In the survey, you will be asked a series of questions about two political candidates, John McCain and Hillary Clinton. We are very interested in how individuals that find information on the web think about politics, and your participation would be greatly appreciated. In total, the survey should take about 15 minutes to complete. The survey is completely anonymous and you can skip any questions you do not wish to answer.

    Click here to take the survey:

    Please feel free to contact Chris Weber ( at Stony Brook University with any questions or concerns. Thanks for your help!


    If you don’t mind, please do not post any additional information, such as your impressions of the survey, and please disable comments about the survey. This way, people can take the survey without biasing the responses of other participants.

    I hope you are willing to help by taking the survey yourself and asking your readers to get involved. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns.

    Thank you,

    Chris Weber
    PhD Candidate
    Stony Brook University

    Stanley Feldman
    Department of Political Science

  • I’ll say nothing about the SURVEY, Mr. Weber, but I will say that I’m profoundly grateful for this website of yours because it has helped me prove to some Democrats and Independents that not all Republicans are herd animals who lockstep to the beat of the RNC’s drum. My message to the members of our party is to put aside false pride and accept the hard cold facts that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney put their agenda before our country and our party’s, and come together and find new leaders who exemplify Lincoln and Eisenhower’s integrity, compassion, and vision. While just the sight of George W. Bush or Dick Cheney makes me gag, I know having worked in the back alleys and sewers of the federal government since 1958 that the true source of our countries status quo is the military-industrial complex. President Eisenhower warned us about this and before him President Ruther B. Hayes, “This is a government of the people, by the people and for the people no longer. It is a government of corporations, by corporations, and for corporations.”

    Those who are interested in President Eisenhower’s opinion can watch either or both of these two short videos.

    Thank you,
    Bob Miller Writes.

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