Most conservatives feel that the nomination of McCain is a sign that the Republican party has moved away from conservatism, and embraced a philosophy that is, if not quite liberal, unabashedly moderate. McCain doesn’t do much to dispel that impression—he once compared Rush Limbaugh to a circus clown, and has made little effort to soften his more liberal views. It is little wonder that conservatives feel that the Republican Party rejected its conservative constituency.
However, they are incorrect. Modern conservatism began as a political force with the nomination of Barry Goldwater in 1964. And John McCain, with the exception of Ronald Reagan, is the most conservative person nominated by the Republicans since Goldwater.
It seems inconceivable, but is true. No other nominee (with the exception, of course, of Reagan) has been as conservative as McCain, and many have been considerably more liberal. McCain would be seen as the second coming of Ronald Reagan if he would only take the trouble to pander to the right wing of the party.
The Republicans nominated since 1964 have been: Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bob Dole, and George W. Bush. Nixon was one of the most liberal Presidents of the century (Michael Moore called him our last liberal president. While a typical ridiculous exaggeration, Moore was right about the liberal part). He instituted wage and price controls, indexed Social Security for inflation, was the first President to implement affirmative action, and created Supplemental Security Income. In addition, Nixon started the process called détente, which eased U.S. pressure on the Soviet Union. This, of course, gave the Soviet Union time to build up its forces with impunity.
Guess who proposed the first universal health care program? Nixon. Plus, there was the little episode involving Watergate, of which you may have heard something. This led to the Presidency (and later Presidential nomination) of Gerald Ford.
It’s hard to write much about Ford, as he didn’t do much as President, and seemed content to be Richard Nixon Lite. He continued détente, supported abortion, nominated John Paul Stevens to the Supreme Court, and vocally supported the Equal Rights Amendment. He was every bit as liberal as Nixon, but more forgettable.
After the dreadful Carter years, the Republican Party nominated a true ideological conservative. After eight years of conservative governing, stagflation had ended, the economy was booming, and the Soviet Union was reeling. So of course the Republicans nominated…George H.W. Bush. Bush told voters to “read my lips, no new taxes”, and then raised taxes two years later. He lost to Bill Clinton.
Bush lost because he raised taxes. So who better for the Republicans to nominate than the man Newt Gingrich once called “the tax collector for the welfare state”, Bob Dole? Dole, of course, voted for Bush’s tax hike. Dole did a special general election flip-flop on taxes, and briefly became a fervent anti-tax crusader. But the voters didn’t buy it, and Dole went home.
The next Republican nominated was our current President, George W. Bush. He ran as a “compassionate conservative”, which is a euphemism for “tax collector for the welfare state”.
Bush cut taxes, but not spending. He cooked up a massive array of federal programs, including No Child Left Behind, a prescription drug coverage bill, massive increases in entitlement spending, and huge increases in earmarks. All of these programs worked about as well as most federal programs work. Now, our national debt is almost double what it was when Bush took office. It is now over $9 trillion [!] dollars, and it is anybody’s guess as to how we will ever pay that back. In addition, Bush (with McCain’s support), introduced the infamous illegal aliens amnesty bill.
Compared to these people, John McCain is Ann Coulter. On the issue of taxes, the biggest criticism of McCain is that he didn’t vote for the Bush tax cuts. Bob Dole voted for tax increases. McCain supports amnesty for illegal immigrants? So does Bush. (And so did Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, and Rudy Giuliani, until they noticed the polls). McCain’s conservative apostasies are regrettable—but nothing that we haven’t seen before from Republican Presidential nominees.
Conservatives may not decide to support McCain merely because he is better than what the GOP usually offers—they may want a candidate who is unabashedly conservative. But they should know that by rejecting McCain, they are rejecting the most conservative candidate (with one exception) since Barry Goldwater.