The Republican mythology of the upcoming presidential election has put Fred Thompson center stage as the sole true conservative candidate; Rudy Giuliani , John McCain and George Romney are moderate Republicans.
Thompson’s withdrawal therefore represents a setback for conservatives. The dirges are only just now beginning. When Bill Buckley, running for mayor of New York, was asked what he would do if he actually won, he responded that he would string a net around one of the floors of the New York Times building. Nets are being strung, and the left in the United States may now safely expel its held breath: There will be no conservative candidate for president this year.
Not everyone on the right is down in the dumps. Political commentator and classicist David Hanson, author of “A War Like No Other,” an account of the Peloponnesian War, has written favorably about McCain, producing cat calls from his usual cheering section.
McCain, Hanson says, is no Ronald Reagan. But he reasonably points out that, at times, Ronald Reagan was no Ronald Reagan.
Prisoners of their own mythology, Republicans have forgotten that Reagan “facing spiraling deficits, sinking poll ratings and a hostile Congress — reluctantly signed legislation raising payroll, income and gasoline taxes, some of them among the largest in our history. He promised to limit government and eliminate the Departments of Education and Energy. Instead, when faced with congressional and popular opposition, he relented and even grew government by adding a secretary of veteran affairs to the Cabinet.”
“Two of his Supreme Court appointments, Sandra Day O'Connor and Anthony Kennedy, were far more liberal than George W. Bush's selections, the diehard constructionists, John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
“Reagan's 1986 comprehensive immigration bill turned out to be the most liberal amnesty for illegal aliens in our nation's history, and set the stage for the present problem of 12 million aliens here unlawfully.”
In a perfect world, such accommodations would have been unnecessary, but the world is far from perfect. The conservative folk in South Carolina, who gave the nod to McCain, seem to be aware of this, and it will not be long before the deep thinkers in the Republican Party rethink McCain, as McCain has rethought McCain.
The fear about McCain is that, as a moderate, he lacks conservative ballast, and those who are lighter than air blow with the wind. Conservative naturally do not want their birthright sold for a mess of pottage. Necessary compromise is one thing; traitorous behavior quite another.
McCain’s minuses have been spotted often enough in conservative publications. He’s an independista and, on some issues, a bit of a thickhead. Hanson ticks off the plusses:
“McCain is starting to show a certain attraction to many bedrock conservatives that must be based on his war record and service, and this trumps their worries about his less than conservative fides — or at least allows them to accept McCain's won't-make-that-mistake-again changed views on closing the border, tax cuts, etc. Privately many conservative voters have looked at the polls and know McCain does best against the Democrats.”
And Hanson has a message for “sit it out” conservatives. They should begin thinking about the consequences of “of Presidents Hillary and Bill. My guess is that McCain could still unify the party, if he (1) offers some informal assurances about illegal immigration and taxes, and does an "inoperative" on McCain-Feingold; (2) has frank discussions with the conservative media such as Limbaugh, Hannity, etc. and takes his medicine without losing his temper; (3) promises a hard conservative as VP. McCain's conservative ratings, after all, are in the 80s, he is rock solid on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he wants a balanced budget, and is now against blanket amnesty and "comprehensive" reform — and looks like he is the leader to gain the nomination and simultaneously infuriate base conservatives.”
If Hanson’s song is not a dulcet sound to rock-ribbed conservative ears, neither is it doleful nor despairing, except for the end note.
If the “sit it outs” persist in throwing the election to the Clintons, “…we are about 1/3 the way through a Greek tragedy, in which the fated catastrophic denouement is known, but can't be prevented.”