Wednesday, February 06, 2008

McCain goes to CPAC

Given his showing in the Super Tuesday primaries yesterday it appears that John McCain is going to be the Republican nominee. That isn't 100% certain yet, but barring some kind of major upset come November it will be his name which will appear opposite what now seems very likely to be Barack Obama's on the ballot in the general election.

However if a substantial number of conservative voters find themselves unable to overcome their distrust of and disgust with John McCain and sit out the election he will find it almost impossible to win in November.

It is with this in mind that McCain is scheduled to speak at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference). McCain is going to appear, hat in hand, at the venue which he refused to address during his last presidential campaign and attempt to convince a room full of conservative activists that he is really "one of them".

Jed Babbin, writing in Human Events, has this to say about it:

Tomorrow, both McCain and Romney will address the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC. (Huckabee will appear on Saturday morning). The speech McCain will give could be the best opportunity McCain will have to reach out to conservatives and bring them into the fold before the September 1-4 Minneapolis Republican convention.

One source told me last night that McCain is planning an all-out push at CPAC. At 3 pm tomorrow, McCain is scheduled to address the crowd expected to number over 6,000 activists. And McCain plans a very special introduction.

According to my source, McCain has prepared a video featuring President Ronald Reagan to make the introduction. If McCain uses this video, it is very likely to backfire badly. This is the group before which Ronald Reagan said in 1975 that, “A political party cannot be all things to all people. It must represent certain fundamental beliefs which must not be compromised to political expediency or simply to swell its numbers.”

Very few of the 2008 CPAC crowd will see McCain as the successor to Reagan and Reagan’s principles. McCain has sacrificed conservatives’ fundamental beliefs throughout his Senate career. If McCain uses this introduction, the boos will be very loud.

McCain faces a real quandary. If he fails at CPAC -- and doesn’t win the CPAC straw poll (he finished dead last in 2007) -- the word will be out that the conservatives are off his team this year. The results of the poll will be announced at about 2 pm Saturday. McCain can do a few things at CPAC that could help.

First, he could throw away the Reagan video introduction. If he uses it at CPAC -- a house that Reagan built -- he could alienate a large portion of the conservatives he needs.

Second, he could say a lot more than he has so far on three key issues: Supreme Court appointments, the war and illegal immigration.

By January 2009, more than half of the Supreme Court justices will be over the age of 70. It’s likely that the next president will have four or five nominations, especially if he (or she) is a two-term president. After the reports of McCain’s dismissive remarks about the conservatism of Supreme Court Justice Sam Alito (reported last week by Bob Novak and John Fund) McCain must convince conservatives that the justices he would try to appoint would be of the same judicial temperament as Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. McCain must say clearly and concisely that he would only appoint justices whose views are strict constructionist and that he would fight to get them through a Democrat-dominated Senate.

On the war, McCain needs to say more than just repeat his commitment to the troop surge. The surge is already ending and by late spring, most of the combat power committed to the surge will have to be withdrawn because we lack the troop strength to sustain it. What comes next is vital to success, and McCain needs to describe what he intends to do. He needs to say something like what Rudy Giuliani said throughout his aborted campaign: that America will remain on offense against terrorists and the nations that support them.

Third, and most importantly to many conservatives, McCain must argue convincingly that he really did learn the lessons conservatives taught him at great pains to both sides. He has said that he knows border security must come first, but his answers to questions both on Meet the Press and in the CNN debate before the Florida primary were evasive. Will he sign legislation that establishes a path to citizenship for the 12 to 20 million illegals already here? If he doesn’t commit to rejecting that idea, he will not win over the conservative community he needs to win in November.

Presidential campaigns are like the life of a pilot: hours of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer panic. They have become a seemingly-endless marathon punctuated by sprints like the one preceding Super Tuesday. But this week’s sprint isn’t over. For John McCain, the finish line is at CPAC, after his Thursday speech. McCain has to finish first at CPAC or risk a disunited party this fall.

The question is this. How can anything McCain says to conservatives be taken seriously? John McCain is a man whose temper goes well past the point of being "quick" or "sharp" and no grudge he has ever held in his entire life is deeper or more bitter than the one he nurses against Republican conservatives and Evangelical Christians for the defeat they handed him in the 2000 Republican primary.

While McCain has always been a media whore who was willing to trash other Republicans in exchange for face time on talking-head shows his most egregious departures from the Republican/conservative line came after his Y2K humiliation.

It has been speculated, probably accurately, that McCain's opposition to the Bush tax cuts and his sponsorship of vile pieces of legislation like McCain-Feingold (repeal the First Amendment), McCain-Kennedy (amnesty and open borders) and McCain-Lieberman (ruin the economy to stop global warming) are all motivated by his hatred of and desire to avenge himself against the Republican party and its conservative base.

Can I prove that assertion? No, but anyone other than the most committed McCain kool-aid drinker will have to admit that it is at least plausible and there is the problem.

If McCain has dedicated his life to getting back at the conservative component of the Republican party then what better way to go about it than to pack the Supreme Court with carbon copies of David Souter? After all Warren Rudman, the man who gave us David Souter is now a part of the McCain campaign and would have a role in his administration.

And even if McCain isn't working out some kind of Machiavellian scheme to wreck the Republican party we still have to face the fact that his first impulse when dealing with any political problem is to leap across the isle and seek a partnership with left-wing Democrats. And the results of these deals with Democrats always manage to move the nation to the left.

Given that the only genuinely accurate predictor of a person's future behavior is his past behavior what basis do any of McCain's supporters have for thinking that President McCain would not seek to move the Left's agenda any less enthusiastically than Senator McCain has done?

Conservatives are being asked to take a terrible risk this November. How will they respond?