Perspective on McCain

Arapahoe County is obviously Romney country, based on his 66% sweep in yesterday's caucus, said GOP county chairman Nathan Chambers at a morning-after breakfast with party activists. But Chambers added that despite his deep differences with John McCain on key policy issues, he'll do everything possible to unify our side behind Mac if the nomination goes his way. Applause in the packed room was loud and long, disagreement was small.

I see it the same way, though with acute indigestion and a raging migraine. "Romney over any Republican if possible, McCain over any Democrat if necessary," is my unjoyous mantra for 2008.

Two friends whom I respect, Vince Carroll of the Rocky's editorial page and Richard Allen of the Reagan inner circle from 1977 onward (who now lives in Denver), appealed for perspective on Mac the Maverick in pieces published today. They give an idea of the soul-searching among Republicans on the right, at this moment of potential fracture in the party.

Carroll's column, "McCain is No Liberal," after acknowledging the senator's many blatant betrayals of conservatism, takes issue with Laura Ingraham's assertion that it's a record any liberal could run on. No liberal, he says,

"would be proud to run on a lifetime rating of 82 from the American Conservative Union, or even the relatively more centrist rating of 65 he compiled in 2006. A liberal would be mortified at such baggage, although no liberal actually has any such rating. More typically, liberals rate in the single digits on the ACU scorecard. Hillary Clinton's lifetime index is nine, for example, with a 2006 rating of eight - the same as Barack Obama's."

Carroll then gives a 10-point rundown on McCain's voting record from, concluding:

"The animus some conservatives harbor for McCain is not only a reaction to his policies, of course, but also to the contempt he has betrayed on occasion for conservatives themselves. But these irreconcilable differences should not obscure the fact that the McCain record contrasts sharply in a number of areas with both Clinton's and Obama's - should it come to such a comparison in the fall."

Dick Allen was either the initiator or merely the first signer alphabetically -- I don't know which -- on an open letter entitled "Reaganauts for McCain," circulated widely by email and now posted on Signing with him, in order of their prominence, were Jack Kemp, Peter Hannaford, Frank Donatelli, and Craig Shirley, who all worked with Ronald Reagan during or before his presidency, and who among them have authored seven books about him.

The five co-signers attempt to make the case that John McCain, just like the Gipper (who would have turned 97 today, incidentally) is a break-the-mold agent of Republican renewal for a new time. While I don't find their argument very persuasive, I hold their credentials in high esteem. Near the end of the short manifesto they write:

"Some fellow conservatives find it hard forgive past positions on campaign finance or other matters. When you stop to reflect, however, with whom--among those out there--are we going to be more secure in terms of domestic security than with John McCain? Who has greater understanding of and experience with the foreign policy and national security challenges we will face than John McCain?"

With America at war against a fanatically determined enemy, one can't dismiss this point out of hand. When next I talk with Dick Allen, though -- perhaps on Backbone Radio, where's he is a regular guest -- I want to press him on the difficulty of "forgiving past positions" when the man who took them remains stubbornly and arrogantly committed to them even now.

I also want to query Allen, national security hawk par excellence, about the difficulty of extracting intelligence from radical Jihadist fighters under such McCain-sponsored handicaps as banning harsh interrogation and closing Guantanamo.

And so much more, so much more. But all that in good time. For today, I agree with Richard Allen, Jack Kemp, Vince Carroll, and the rest to this extent at least: "McCain over any Democrat if necessary." But I'm not yet ready to abandon the first half of that formula: "Romney over any Republican if possible."