Is McCain Acceptable?
Many conservatives are unsure of whether or not to support John McCain for the presidency. They feel that, as conservatives, they must support only candidates who are also conservatives, and no others. They believe that giving their support to a candidate who has consistently fought against important conservatives issues does not deserve their support.
Before examine whether this attitude is the correct one, it is important to set some premises.
1. Pure conservatism is not a majority political philosophy. Most Americans support some facets of the conservative movement, but reject others. Evangelicals like the social aspects, low taxes and loose regulations appeal to people in business, and a strong national defense appeals to those who worry about security. Sometimes, there is an overlap of supporters of each of these issues—these people are the Republican Party base. But there are not enough to win a national election.
Therefore, conservatives are forced to make pragmatic alliances. There will be people who will not agree with all aspects of conservative ideology, but agree with enough to support key conservative causes. It is crucial that the conservative movement ally themselves with these people, even if sometimes there are costs. Conservatives will have to be pragmatic; they will be forced to sacrifice.
2. Conservatives will have to make the Republican Party their home. Independent and third party candidates never win, and rarely make even the slightest amount of difference. Furthermore, the ranks of their supporters are often filled with lunatics and extremists, which would serve to sully the reputations of any conservatives joining them.
Even when third party candidates do make a difference, those who voted for them are rarely happy they did so. Many conservatives voted for Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996. They got Bill Clinton. A small but important group of liberals voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. They have spent the past eight years regretting that decision.
And anyway, the premise behind third party voting (that the party will listen to those disenchanted voters) doesn’t work. The Republicans didn’t suddenly break to the right after Perot cost them at least one, and possibly two, elections. John Kerry was no more liberal than Al Gore. If conservatives want to have any measure of political influence, it will have to be from within the Republican Party.
3. The only remaining question is: which tenets of political belief are essential for an acceptable candidate? That question will, of course, differ from person to person, as not all conservatives have the same priorities. However, there a few issues that everyone can agree are essential in a conservative—a commitment to life, support for a strong national defense, the willingness to fight for individual liberties, and a belief in a small, limited government.
McCain has a pretty good pro-life record. He is against abortion, has supported every pro-life judicial nominee, and has never flip-flopped on the subject of life. The only blemish on his record is a support for embryonic stem cell research, although that issue’s importance is lessened by recent scientific advances rendering the practice at least somewhat obsolete.
McCain is easily the best candidate on the war. He is one of the few men in America who always supported the Iraq struggle, and advocated the correct strategy long before most did. Whatever his weaknesses, few conservatives accuse him of lacking in national defense credentials.
On issues of individual liberties, McCain has a mixed record. He supports the Second Amendment, and his health care plan, while not perfect, is not particularly intrusive. However, his support for aggressive government action against global warming is troubling. However, taken as a whole, his record on this issue is fairly strong, if not exemplary.
It would be impossible to call John McCain a libertarian. However, his tax plan is a pleasant surprise to many conservatives (he took many of his ideas from Fred Thompson’s tax plan). It features an optional flat tax, which would spare citizens the hassle of following the IRS’s onerous regulations. He also supports cutting the corporate tax rate and eliminating the AMT. And of course, he is well known as a mortal enemy of earmarks.
In fact, McCain’s weaknesses on limited government are more of what he wouldn’t do than what he would. He has spent little time denouncing our overstretched welfare system, which in the absence of any government action will lead to bankruptcy. He understands that high taxes and strident regulations are bad—but is still partially wedded to some of the ideals of the New Deal. He has rarely if ever mentioned a need to cut benefits.
McCain has his weaknesses. He won’t be a perfect candidate. However, he is reasonably ideologically sound, and certainly no worse than many other recent Republican nominees. He won’t be as conservative as Ronald Reagan—but then, he will probably be more conservative than George W. Bush.