McCain Not Connecting with Conservatives

by Sean Hackbarth

John McCain

The key to Sen. John McCain’s success this November is getting conservatives to vote for him. While many conservatives supported McCain in the primary he was never the “conservative choice.” Much of the Republican base lacks passion for the man. Right now for them, the most that can be said is McCain wouldn’t bail out of Iraq and is less likely to take the country down the tax-and-spend path of Sens. Clinton and Obama. It’s about voting against the Democrats instead of voting for McCain.

Soon after McCain’s Super Tuesday wins that forced Mitt Romney out of the race and essentially sealed up the nomination he spoke to conservatives at CPAC. I thought he said what he needed to say, but that it was only a start. I haven’t seen much outreach from the candidate since then. Instead, I read Lawerence Eagleburger’s words showing contempt for conservatives, particularly Christian conservatives:

Yet Eagleburger bluntly contradicted McCain on at least one major issue of concern to the Republican Party: the role of the religious right. McCain has spent two years making nice with the likes of Jerry Falwell and John Hagee, repenting for referring to Falwell and Pat Robertson as “agents of intolerance” back in 2000. Yet Eagleburger seemed to suggest that we shouldn’t take McCain’s embrace of the religious right too seriously.

“On the Christian hard right, I live in Charlottesville now and I can’t tell you I’m surrounded by it,” Eagleburger said. “I must tell you we fought it there, fought hard against it. There’s no question that in the Republican Party it is a serious problem…Among the hard-right conservatives in the Republican Party John McCain was, shall we say, less than enthusiastically received…What you see is what you get. You are not going to see him moving to assuage the concerns of these conservatives.

“The issues that have concerned the far right I don’t see and I don’t expect to see any changes. I know there will be some people in his entourage who will want to advocate for those changes, and again, I don’t believe he will shift on those fundamental issues. For example, on abortion, he’s clear, he’s opposed. On one of the issues that upsets the far right, stem cell research, he is prepared to accept some of that, and that’s something that upsets the far right. I could go on with these issues.” Too bad he didn’t.

McCain needs to assuage conservatives’ concerns. Ha can’t have his advisers blasting the people he needs to donate, volunteer, and vote for him.

So along comes Hugh Hewitt in full-blown Republican cheerleader mode. Today’s NY Times rehashes the stories of McCain defecting to the Democrats, either back in 2001 or as Sen. John Kerry’s running mate in 2004. This doesn’t bother Hugh. He actually wrote,

What’s amusing about this is that the New York Times thinks this matters to Republicans. John McCain is the GOP nominee, so all that matters is that both the Democrats and their entire party are committed to defeat in Iraq and retreat in the broader war. How much simpler can this choice be?

This is the same Hugh Hewitt who felt it was important enough to post James Dobson’s concerns about McCain. His rumored defections to the Democrats were included. Once upon a time this mattered to Hugh.

A possible McCain defection does matter to Republicans and conservatives. They question McCain’s loyalty to the party and conservative ideas. McCain’s maverick posture over the years ingratiated him well with reporters and independents, but many in the conservative base don’t know how he would lead as President. Will a President McCain push for tax cuts instead of simply maintaining the Bush cuts the Democrats so eagerly want to nix? Will McCain declare the U.S.-Mexico border to be secure too soon so he can push for his comprehensive immigration reform? Will he simply shove conservatives to the side after the election and compromise left and right with liberal Congressional Democrats?

If 2008 is as close as 2000 and 2004 then McCain can’t afford to ignore the base. He has to reassure them enough to let them know he won’t abandon them. That means he must talk and listen to them.

“2 McCain Moments, Rarely Mentioned” [via memeorandum]

[picture via soggydan]

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5 Responses to “McCain Not Connecting with Conservatives”

1

It’s about voting against the Democrats instead of voting for McCain.

Which, to me, is a bit of hilarious irony. Wasn’t it just four years ago that many conservatives (maybe you included, maybe not; i wasn’t reading you back then) derided liberals and Democrats for voting against Bush and not for Kerry? I remember a lot of conservatives crowing about how they would win the election because people would rather vote for something than against it.

So, by that logic, McCain doesn’t stand a chance, right? (Er, unless Hillary is nominated, in which case a lot of people will be voting either against Hillary or against McCain. Oh good, the lesser of two evils again! Make mine Cthulu!)

2

DJ, I think I was one of those who noticed that phenomenon. And not having enough conservatives for McCain is a weakness for him.

Being a pro-active candidate where your supporters want to vote for you rather than against you puts you in a better position. If McCain doesn’t do enough to get conservatives to back him he’ll need to rely on independents and Reagan Democrats. If Obama is the Democratic nominee he too will make a big push for independents. McCain would have more room for error is he had a stronger base.

It should be a Democratic year anyway, but a dispirited conservative base only makes it more so.

3

[...] SoggyDan at The American Thinker disagrees: “A possible McCain defection does matter so Republicans and conservatives. They question McCain’s loyalty to the party and conservative ideas. McCain’s maverick posture over the years ingratiated him well with reporters and independents, but many in the conservative base how he would lead as President. [...]

4

Still hopeing he will come to the plate with his CPAC agenda intact, and I believe that of all the candidates his VP choice will be a major factor to the Conservative voting base.

5

[...] As I wrote yesterday, McCain hasn’t connected to conservatives yet. So instead of them rallying around him they sharpen their knives by cutting down Sens. Clinton and Obama. He needs to start reaching out in a public way to allay his critics’ fears or at the very least not have them publically grumble. [...]

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