The Conservative Brand

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) isn’t an old man, but he’s old enough to remember when calling someone a “conservative” was sort of an insult. In an interview yesterday, the Senate minority leader said that the equation of his youth is reversed. “Ronald Reagan made the term, ‘conservative’ popular,” he said, and now “Democrats are running away” from the “liberal” label. McConnell is in a position to keep them running.

McConnell has a tough job, holding a fractious and often fractured group of 49 Republicans together to stop the (forgive the redundancy) liberal Democrats’ agenda of high taxes, illegal immigration, retreat and defeat. We talked briefly Thursday about how McConnell is shaping Republicans’ strategy and a host of issues in which the Democrats are trying to violate key conservative principles.

First, McConnell believes that the 2006 election results reflect the unpopularity of the war in Iraq. It wasn’t, he said, “a rejection of center-right politics.” Post-election polling supports McConnell’s conclusion, showing that a large majority of Americans did not want to withdraw from Iraq, but weren’t at all happy with the way the President was prosecuting the war.

That translates to the Republicans in the Senate being able to reshape some of the Democrats’ legislation and stop the rest cold. McConnell said, “We’ve demonstrated in the last three months that we will not be run over.” There are two more demonstrations he seemed to be itching to accomplish.

First is the Dems’ payoff to big labor, eliminating the secret ballot requirement for union elections. McConnell said Republicans would kill it and “probably brag about it.” If they do, conservatives should be throwing the party.

Next on McConnell’s target list is HR 1433, the Democrats’ bill creating a voting member of the House of Representatives for the District of Columbia. HUMAN EVENTS is strongly opposed to the measure for precisely the reasons McConnell cited.

He told me the bill is unconstitutional and reached for a pocket-sized edition of the Constitution to prove it. McConnell cited Article 1 Section 2 (“The House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States…”) and the 23rd Amendment, which gave the people of the District of Columbia the right to vote in presidential elections. (It provides, in part, that, “The District constituting the seat of Government of the United States shall appoint…A number of electors of President and Vice President equal to the whole number of Senators and Representatives in Congress to which the District would be entitled if it were a State…”) The fact that the District of Columbia isn’t a state has apparently escaped the Democrats and, sadly, some Republicans.

McConnell said HR 1433 isn’t — as some would disguise it — a civil rights issue. He said Republicans would kill it if they can because it is unconstitutional and must be stopped for that reason alone. But what of the legislation — like the Democrats’ budget plan — that can’t be reshaped and which Republicans can’t stop altogether? (At this writing, HR 1433 has been pulled from the House floor because of an effort by Republicans and Blue Dog Dems to add a repealer of the D.C. gun ban. HR 1433 is down, but not out. It will almost certainly be revived).

I asked McConnell if he had talked to President Bush about unlimbering the presidential veto. He wouldn’t, of course, reveal his personal discussions with the President but he did say that some bills that deserve to be killed may well not be because they deserve the dramatic death that comes with the veto.

We hope McConnell’s prediction of more vetoes comes true, especially with regard to the Democrats’ budget plan. That plan — which the Dems’ amen chorus in the media isn’t reporting — would have raised taxes on Americans by $900 billion over the next few years, which would be three times as large as the largest tax hike in history, the 1993 Clinton tax increase. McConnell said it had been pared down to about $700 billion, which is still mind-bogglingly huge.

McConnell forecast the fight conservatives have been waiting six years for: a real knock-down, drag out battle over a presidential veto. President Bush’s reluctance to veto almost anything since being elected (he did veto a stem-cell research measure) has left conservatives wondering just how bad something has to be to get Bush to kill it. The McCain-Feingold bill wasn’t. Now, the Dems’ attachment of a “cut and run” specified date for withdrawal from Iraq may be the one. McConnell predicted there would be a big fight over it in the Senate and — if the measure passes Congress and the President vetoes it — a showdown on a veto-override vote.

If it is managed correctly — as McConnell is ready to do — that showdown could be one of the political dramas that shape the course of the 2008 presidential race.