Making the case for McCain

Dan Proft Feb. 17, 2008, 7:00am


Republicans ought to be thankful that two-thirds of the American electorate is consumed with finding out how many Democrat delegates (and super-delegates) can dance on the head of a pin.

The Clinton-Obama catfight as to who is Jimmy Carter's true heir provides much-needed cover for John McCain to get the GOP house in order.

Amid Ann Coulter's repeated self-immolation on cable news networks and the more legitimate hue and cry of rank-and-file conservatives harboring long-standing enmities for him, McCain needs this time to recast himself and refocus his party's base to the task before them in November.

Conservatives should not either forget or even forgive McCain for his well-established and oft-repeated list of offenses against free minds and free markets.

But they must get hip to the realities of this election.

First, not only is John McCain not Ronald Reagan, no one else is Ronald Reagan either. Instead of demanding McCain do his best karaoke of Reagan, the effort should be made to ensure that McCain learns the lessons of Reagan and applies them. That begins with a focused message that speaks to the pressing issues of the day and provides a clear contrast to the Democrats.

Second, conservatives would be wise to resist the siren song to punish McCain for past bad acts. The time for vengeance was the primary and McCain survived it fair and square.

The arguments about teaching McCain a lesson remind me of those that were made in 1992 against George H.W. Bush for breaking his tax pledge.

Some conservatives contended that the play was to let Bill Clinton win and come storming back in 1996 to reclaim the White House with a true conservative.

How'd that work out?

Hillary Clinton should have been sent back to Little Rock to over-bill clients and fetch Webb Hubbell's coffee. Instead, 16 years later, she is the likely Democrat nominee for President.

Our military shouldn't have been allowed to atrophy during the 1990s, suffering under a 30 percent budget cut in an uncertain post-Cold War world. Instead, America was caught under-prepared for the global threat posed by Islamo-fascism.

The country paid a high price for George H.W. Bush to be taught a lesson.

This is not to blame conservatives for the Clintons and what they have wrought but rather to highlight that history is non-linear. Conceding a Presidential election for what you hope will occur four years later is dangerous business.

Third, as rightly unnerving as it may be to conservatives, McCain's history of placating old media by shanking conservatives in the back will benefit his Presidential prospects by giving him the benefit of the doubt that few Republican standard-bearers enjoy. Old media outlets are on the wane but they still wield considerable influence.

Following on that bitter pill, McCain's standing with old media will be quite useful for a reason conservatives will enjoy. In order to win, McCain will have to present a contrast message and therefore a conservative vision to the American public on the three main topics of this campaign-the economy generally and health care reform specifically and the War on Terror.

Old media is likely to assist McCain in doing that with less than their usual level of ridicule but for the messenger if not the message.

With votes cast in the Democrat primaries and caucuses outnumbering Republican votes by more than a 3:2 ratio this year, McCain will be precluded from his worst instincts to attempt to out-Democrat the Democrats. His only viable option will be to present Americans with distinct policy choices on the big issues. If he echoes the Democrat nominee, he loses.

Given the threats we face in 2008 from Democrats who want to nationalize 15 percent of our economy to Islamo-facists who, at a minimum, seek to end American hegemony, we cannot concede one day, much less four years of the Presidency.

In this year, with these challenges, conservatives would do well to consider their uncertainties with McCain in the context of the certainties that would befall our country under either Clinton or Obama.

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