February 05, 2008

The conservative base’s anti-McCain revolt”€”emanating from Rush Limbaugh, Human Events, and the non-Ponnuru wing of NR“€”reached apotheosis, or self-parody, on Thursday as Ann Coulter threatened to vote for Hillary if McCain got the GOP nomination”€”even campaign for the woman.

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One should look upon this spectacle with a jaundiced eye. For as Mark Levin, Coulter, and & Co. exhort the troops to “€œrally for Romney!,”€ they don”€™t seem particularly eager to inquire as to whether the man from Massachusetts is worthy of the conservative mantle being thrust upon him. They”€™re even less interested in asking whether McCain’s proposals for amnesty, his “€œreaching out across the aisle”€ when some big government is in the works, and his vague assertions that Washington must “€œdo something”€ about global warming make him look awfully similar to that self-described “€œconservative”€ in the White House whom the talk radio set still adore. 

This aside, it would be wrong to dismiss the revolt as merely wild irrational flailing.

John O’sullivan has written the definitive apologetic for the “€œI hate McCain”€ movement (perhaps putting words into the mouths of some, expressing what’s really in the hearts of others).

O’sullivan stresses that it’s too easy to simply tell the McCain-haters that they should “€œswallow [their] differences … in order to avert worse from the Democrats.”€

“€¨”€¨“€This is the logic of political coalitions”€”which national parties are in a two-party system”€”and most of the time it’s valid. But it’s not always valid.

“€œMany conservatives believe that the key question in this election is: Are there to be two multiculturalist open-borders parties or one? If McCain’s election were to make the GOP fundamentally similar to the Democrats on immigration, bilingualism, racial preferences, and all the National Question issues, that would be a resounding historical defeat for conservatives.”€

O’sullivan’s mention of the National Question is important and reveals that the situation is more complicated than a fracturing between the “€œextremist”€ and the “€œmoderate,”€ as the New York Times has reported. The GOP has run three successive national elections on national security, and yet the war in Iraq actually has little to nothing to do with the anti-McCain revolt; indeed, each attack is prefaced with a rather perfunctory “€œMcCain is an American hero and great on defense but…”€

(As an aside, Coulter’s “€œendorsement”€ is slightly different in that she seems to believe that Hillary would be a better terror warrior than McCain, whose opposition to Gitmo and torture has greatly disappointed her. While Hannity recites the “€œshe”€™d cut “€˜n”€™ run”€ Mantra, Fieldmarshall Ann grasps that Clinton ain”€™t antiwar and would be a fine coalition partners for neocons and hawks”€”something Justin has been telling us for years.)

In my last post on the anti-McCain phenomenon, I argued that McCain is very much the “€œcandidate the anti-McCainites deserve”€ in that he represents the triumph of the “€œwar on terror”€ über alles. Levin, Coulter, and Rush are reaping the fruits of defining conservatism on the basis of “€œdo you support the war?”€”€”a philosophy that usually delivers them up some patriotic leftists who are good on the war but terrible on everything else (Joe Lieberman being the best example).  

While this might be true, I”€™d be remiss to look the other way when conservatives actually make friend/enemy distinctions on a criterion other than the war on terror and actually reject McCain, the ultra terror warrior, for what are generally good reasons”€”his wrongness on the National Question, his pink economics, and conviviality with liberals.

Furthermore, Rush & Co. have been rather forthright in targeting Fred Barnes, Bill Kristol, David Brooks, and other Weekly Standard-ites for scorn”€”the exact people who”€™ve sought to “€œmodernize”€ the conservative movement, counseling its members to deemphasize limited government and social concerns and embrace an activist foreign policy. And it is, of course, these former conservative movement darlings who now find themselves scorned by much of the base for their insisting that conservatives “€grow up”€ and accept McCain as the leader of the GOP.

It’s far, far too early to speak of a purge of neoconservatism”€”and it’s naïve to think that a movement rallied around Romney would be dramatically better than one loyal to Dubya”€”but it would also be wrong to dismiss or ignore signs that the GOP might actually be something more than a war party.


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