I must apologize for my cynicism up front because I know it is not shared by many – at least not in polite company. But I just can’t help it.
There were times during that debate last night where I had to remind myself that these were actually Republican candidates for President. At times, it sounded more like a John Edwards political rally with talk of “evil” Wall Street companies and Huckabee’s “two Americas lite.” And Romney’s penchant for throwing a couple of hundred billion dollars at voters sounded more like some other Massachusetts politician except I’m sure Mitt is a better driver.
When the presidential selection process began, there were several candidates that any conservative could have supported if not enthusiastically then at least by giving lip service if they had ended up the nominee. Now by default, we are left with a man who ran for governor as a center left moderate, governed as a centrist, and then adopted a slew of conservative positions on the issues just in time to be seen as a viable candidate for the White House. For many, giving Mitt Romney the benefit of the doubt for what John Hawkins has refereed to as his “Road to Damascus” conversion to conservatism is a matter of desperation. There isn’t anyone left in the race who espouses bedrock conservative principles mostly across the board except Romney.
For me, the question has never been that Huckabee and McCain aren’t “true” conservatives. By the lights of most who read this blog, I am not a “true” conservative either. The question is one of conservative governance and in both men, there is a lack of commitment to some truly basic conservative principles that calls into question just what kind of president they would be.
Huckabee cannot see beyond class. He has wedged class in his campaign in a pale imitation of John Edwards by trying to demonize the wealthy and speak for “ordinary Americans.” He has further carved out support by shamelessly and constantly appealing to Christian conservatives, calling himself a “Christian leader” and invoking the name of God every chance he gets.
Since when is initiating class warfare a conservative campaign tactic? Pundits call his philosophy “conservative populism” but it’s really much simpler than that. He is using class as a political scalpel to snip away a portion of the Republican electorate while slicing the bulk of Christian conservatives away from more traditionally conservative candidates. There is no path to the White House for Huckabee employing these tactics. But he should be able to harvest a couple of hundred delegates on Super Tuesday by winning 2 or 3 primaries while picking up delegates for finishing second and third elsewhere. He will then be in a position to humbly offer his services as Vice President to John McCain who will, if things remain relatively unchanged, come out of Super Tuesday with a huge lead in delegates on Mitt Romney.
For McCain, I suspect his fealty to conservatism and conservative principles will last until he wins the White House. It will be at that point that we will get a glimpse of just how important he thinks his conservatism is by looking at his cabinet appointments and the manner in which he fills other important posts in his Administration. I daresay there will be many “maverick” choices – including Democrats – that will curdle the blood of most movement conservatives and dismay the rest of us.
Would Romney be any different? The former governor and CEO would almost certainly look for the most competent people he can find to run the government. No doubt we would be disappointed in some of his choices. At least we could be assured that his selections were not made to “stick it” to conservatives – a disease McCain seems to have acquired over the years as his contempt for the right has been demonstrated on numerous occasions.
McCain and Huckabee can say they’re the best conservatives in the race until doomsday and it won’t make it so. And Romney can call his conversion to conservatism true and honorable until the cows come home and there will always be that nagging doubt in the back of everyone’s mind.
In my PJ Media column today, I look at McCain, Huckabee, and Giuliani and see a Republican party that is moving inexorably toward the center.
There may be many moderate and moderately conservative Republicans, as Jennifer Rubin muses in The Observer, who wish the party to do something about climate change despite the adamant opposition of many in the base. It could very well be that there is close to a majority of Republicans who want to solve the illegal immigrant problem by closing the border and then granting some kind of path to legality to those already here.
The proof is in the pudding, friends. John McCain supports those positions and is the presumptive nominee. All other GOP candidates opposed those positions and are toast.
While these positions would have been seen as â€œmoderateâ€ 8 years ago, those McCain supporters who identify themselves as â€œsomewhat conservativeâ€ may also hold positions on continuing the mission in Iraq, fiscal responsibility, pro-life, anti-gay marriage, and other issues where they would find agreement with the base.
Does this mean that the party has lurched leftward while no one was looking? Perhaps not as much as it would appear but more than the base is willing to admit.
Would independents and even some Democrats really support McCain in a general election against either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama? Not unless McCain made a conscious decision to virtually abandon the conservative base and adopt a more centrist platform. That’s because the country itself has moved slightly leftward in the last 8 years. On a variety of important issues including health insurance, the environment, and Middle Class entitlements, the American people appear ready to accept more government as the solution to perceived problems.
So in the end, it becomes a question of how many conservatives are willing to hold their noses and vote for McCain so that Hillary Clinton – the presumed Democratic nominee – is prevented from getting her clutches on the levers of government. I will probably be one of those conservatives who votes to keep Hillary Clinton out of the oval office. How many others would follow that example will determine the winner in November.