As American voters see Barack Obama finally forced to put a bit of meat on the thin bones of his platform of “hope and change,” Republicans in particular have a stark choice before us. We can go with Ann Coulter’s position: Republicans should vote for the Democrat so that the ensuing disaster will be blamed on Democrats (whereas a disaster under McCain will be blamed on Republicans.) Or we can go with Michael Reagan’s view: Republicans must support McCain because “the alternative is unthinkable to anyone who loves this nation.”
As someone who lives by Barry Goldwater’s maxim that “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice,” my initial reaction to McCain’s ascendancy was to side with Coulter (mostly I believe McCain-Feingold disqualifies McCain from higher office.) Many people I know who are active in Colorado Republican politics and are opinion-makers within their social and business circles also agreed…at first.
But an interview for HUMAN EVENTS of three such people shows that the tide is moving away from Coulter’s view and toward Reagan’s: All three believe that principled conservatives must support John McCain, even if that support derives more from opposition to Obama or Clinton than a particular fondness for the GOP’s presumptive nominee.
Mark Hillman is the former Majority Leader of the Colorado State Senate and also served as Colorado’s State Treasurer. Kevan McNaught serves on the Executive Committee of the Larimer County Republican Party and ran for the state legislature in 2006. Julie McNaught, Kevan’s wife, is a delegate to the Larimer County Republican convention, self-described as “a bossy, somewhat intelligent Republican who tells all her friends how to vote.” All three are conservative on issues ranging from social to economic to foreign policy, and all three believe strongly in the vision of our nation’s government as laid out in our constitution. They represent what I consider to be the true base of the Republican Party.
Here is a selection of their answers to the questions posed by HUMAN EVENTS:
HE: Who was your first choice in the entire field of declared candidates and why?
JM: Fred Thompson, I really liked him until I started forgetting he was still in the campaign due to his lack of campaigning.
[Note: All three interviewees had decided on Fred Thompson as their early choice, primarily based on his positions on issues.]
HE: Whom did you support in your caucus, and why?
MH: He was saying the right things, so he seemed to have the most
[All three supported Romney in the caucuses, believing he was “the most conservative” of the bunch. Electability in November was only a factor for one.]
HE: When it FIRST became clear that McCain would be the nominee, for what reason(s) did you believe you couldn’t vote for him?
JM: McCain/Feingold, not supporting Bush tax cuts, and he is too old.
KM: Some of his compromises seemed more like capitulations of principle, not being a maverick. The gang of 14 comes to mind.
MH: My biggest fear about McCain was that he would look for judges who would
uphold McCain-Feingold, and no judge who upholds McCain-Feingold can be
called a constructionist.
HE: What caused you to move from being unable to vote for him to deciding to support him?
JM: (A conference I attended) this weekend made me realize just how scary it could be with Obama in office.
KM: His record of opposing wasteful spending in general, earmarks in particular.
MH: A further examination of McCain’s record shows that he has been a solid
supporter of all of the constructionists on today’s Supreme Court and also a
supporter of Robert Bork.
HE: How much of your motivation is pro-McCain versus anti-Obama or anti-Hillary?
KM: More out of fear of the alternative. On second look, McCain’s still not great, but Hillary, Obama, or any combination of them is just too scary to consider. What they could do to the economy in one term would take a generation to correct. What they could allow to happen in defense preparedness might take the half life of plutonium to correct.
MH: It’s not about McCain. It’s about conservative principles: the war, taxes, and spending, and the Supreme Court. McCain has a record of moving us in the right direction on each of those issues. Obama or Clinton will move us in the wrong direction.
HE: What are your greatest current concerns about McCain?
JM: That he will not be a fiscal conservative.
KM: That he’ll be more like the McCain evidenced in recent senate work than the McCain of the campaign trail (McCain-Feingold election “reform,” McCain-Kennedy immigration “reform”…).
HE: Beyond just voting for McCain, would you try to help the campaign with money or your time?
JM: I would help with my time.
KM: It’s early yet. At this moment I can only say I will vote for him.
MH: Again, it’s not about McCain. It’s about conservative principles. I’m no fan of McCain’s personality, but the choice is between where he wants to take the country and where Obama (or Hillary) wants to take the country. I’ll contribute and do what I can to keep our country headed in the right direction.
HE: While recognizing that it is still extremely early and that polls have meant almost nothing recently, what is your guess about whether McCain will be our next president?
JM: I think Obama will win. Wanna move to Italy with us?
KM: Thankfully, it is early. If the election were held today, he’d barely get a majority of Republicans. Perhaps a contingent of unaffiliateds, too, but it’d be a blowout. As people focus on the candidates of the Dark Side, I can only hope they’ll see the extreme danger as well.
MH: Not a clue. This thing is like a rollercoaster, and I expect it will continue like that through November.
HE: Speaking with people you know, do you believe your views are representative of a large percentage of people you associate with?
JM: They are all very disappointed that McCain is the guy, and it will take Kevan and I motivating them in order for them to support him.
KM: Yes. Many don’t yet know much about McCain, despite his long service in the Senate. So as the election nears, I hope they focus on him, and the campaign gets the word out. He seems like a very decent guy as well as a patriot, and that counts for a lot. Win or lose, I suspect he’s a transitional figure, but a very important one to hold the other side (and a terrorist disaster) at bay.
MH: I think I came to grips with the likely McCain candidacy sooner than most Republicans I know, but I think most responsible conservatives will come to the same conclusion when they realize what’s at stake.
I found the assortment of interview answers interesting because each answer is sensible, thoughtful, and an apparent evolution in the person’s thinking. The variety of them highlights the lack of cohesion among Republicans regarding John McCain. Had this same interview been done just a few weeks earlier, I expect the answers would have been even more disparate, with much more leaning toward Coulter’s “just say no to McCain” position.
We’ll follow this evolution. How many conservatives will come around before November? Will they be enough for McCain to win, and what else will he do to bring them around?