Gizzi On Politics: September 22

Why Weyrich Endorses McCain

Paul Weyrich, one of the godfathers of the modern conservative movement, put 19 years of animosity aside last week and strongly endorsed John McCain for president.

“Although I have had differences with John McCain — and feel conservatives might be arguing with him on certain issues — I also think he would be good for the country in that he would sincerely pursue the cutting of government spending and would also back a missile-defense system,” said the 65-year-old Weyrich, in his first interview on why he backs the Arizonan.

Weyrich’s organizational skills helped launch such pillars of conservatism as the Heritage Foundation and the Free Congress Foundation. His blessings of former antagonist McCain came days after one-time television reporter and U.S. Senate staffer Weyrich was honored at a banquet for 400 at Washington’s Four Season Hotel. Many members of Congress attended and President Bush sent a congratulatory letter. More than 30 leading lights of conservatism were featured in filmed tributes to Weyrich, including Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, and syndicated columnist George Will.  

In discussing his endorsement for president with HUMAN EVENTS, Weyrich explained the origins of his years of estrangement from McCain, which started with Weyrich’s successfully opposing the nomination of close McCain friend John Tower to be secretary of Defense in 1989.

“I knew John McCain’s father [Adm. John S. McCain, Jr.] and, in fact, hosted a lunch of conservatives in the Capitol for John after he returned from captivity in Hanoi in 1973,” recalled Weyrich, noting that the luncheon drew more than 300 people and was the largest of its kind. He also vividly recalled McCain’s first election to the House from Arizona in 1982 (when the first-time candidate defeated three established office-holders) and his early days in Congress. Weyrich noted that “we disagreed on some things, as many conservatives did with McCain, but nothing major.”

But the two sharply parted company in ’89, after Weyrich testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee about Tower’s alleged bad social behavior and how he felt the former Texas senator could not be trusted as the top civilian defense authority. Other senators who had clashed with Tower in the past thereupon weighed in against him and the Texan was denied confirmation. (President George H.W. Bush later successfully named then-Wyoming Rep. Dick Cheney to be Defense secretary. Tower died in a plane crash in 1991.).

Freshman Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who had worked closely with Tower when the Texan chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee, was strongly on Tower’s side in the fight and, as one former McCain aide put it, “John hated Paul Weyrich after that confirmation fight.” Weyrich told me that McCain “devotes about nine pages in one of his books to me and it’s not very complimentary.”  

But after McCain nailed down the Republican presidential nomination, Weyrich told me, he “came to my office to see me. We talked things over and he asked for my support. I had been planning to vote for [Libertarian Party nominee] Bob Barr for President. Now I’ve been voting against liberals since 1964 and never truly worried if they won because I felt, despite all their differences from me on issues, they still love their country. But after reading about Obama and some of the people around him — especially those advising him on foreign policy and national security issues — I was truly worried about what would happen to the country if he became President.” So Weyrich decided to support former nemesis McCain even before the senator tapped vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, whom Weyrich believes is “an outstanding choice and someone who will rally conservatives to John McCain.”

Sore Losers Club

Here are two more examples of why conservatives become angry when they are expected just to fall in line and endorse moderate-to-liberal Republican nominees whom they consider RINOs (Republican In Name Only), while liberals do as they please.

Earlier this year, Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R.-Md.) became one of two Republican House members so far to lose renomination in the GOP primary. In a three-candidate race that focused on Gilchrest’s opposition to the war on Iraq, as well as his increasingly left-of-center record (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 61%), including liberal votes on gun ownership, and campaign finance reform, the congressman was defeated by staunch conservative State Sen. Andrew Harris.

After a prolonged period of silence on the general election, the bitter Gilchrest, who was never highly thought of in the House, two weeks ago announced what he would do in November: Vote for the liberal Democratic nominee, Queen Anne County State’s Attorney Frank Kratovil.

“Yes, I was upset about it,” a former staffer to Gilchrest who requested anonymity told me, “but you also have to remember that, in 18 years in Congress and always turning down money from political action committees, Wayne always did exactly what he wanted. Many times, I didn’t know what he was going to do until the moment he did it. That’s Wayne.”

And, apparently, that’s Carol as well — Carol Schwartz, that is. Two weeks ago, the lone Republican on the District of Columbia City Council was defeated for renomination by Patrick Mara, one-time staffer for the late Sen. (1976-2001) John Chafee (R.-R.I.) on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Although some local conservatives blanched at the idea of backing someone who worked for the superliberal Chafee, Mara actually campaigned to the right of Schwartz. He noted that the councilwoman had never taken a pledge against new taxes and had not even endorsed Republican nominee John McCain for president. Schwartz was also an outspoken supporter of statehood for the District. And a controversial measure mandating more paid leave.

Mara won with 55% of the vote. Last week, Schwartz announced that she would still seek another term on the Council (the highest-paid [$120,125] legislature of any U.S. city) as a write-in candidate.

In New Hampshire’s 1st District (Manchester), there was a heated GOP primary. Moderate former Rep. Jeb Bradley (lifetime ACU rating: 71%) was seeking another crack at the district he represented from 2002 until his defeat in ’06. Bradley’s primary opponent was attorney John Stephan, former state commissioner of health and human services. Staunch conservative Stephan hit at Bradley from the right, trumpeting his pro-life views and opposition to greater government spending (Bradley, in contrast, had voted for the prescription drug bill of ’03; Stephan said he would have opposed the measure and President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” federal entitlement program that Bradley favored).
With a fund-raising advantage, Bradley edged out Stephan by a margin of 50% to 47% and now faces a rematch with the narrow ’06 winner, left-wing Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter. Stephan graciously conceded the race and strong endorsed Bradley.