What actually happened, of course, is that the Tories won the 1992 election, were overwhelmed by the financial crisis a year later, gained a reputation for economic incompetence that still clings to them, and lost office for more than a decade (and counting) after that. Here the risk for conservatism of re-electing the Tories was actually greater than the risk of electing Labour. Conservatives would have done better to lose. But such clear-cut choices occur only rarely.
What alarms Mark (and me) is that the current GOP situation seems to combine these two sorts of crisis — (a) the likely abandonment of significant conservative principles, especially on National Question issues, by a McCain-led GOP leading to (b) the entrenchment of an immigration policy that is eroding the GOP demographically.
To quote Mark: “Right now, the two-party system seems to have decayed into a one-and-a-half-party system, with McCain largely in agreement with the Dems on immigration, pharmaceutical companies, global warming and much else. A President McCain will get media bouquets for his bipartisanship in supporting the Democrat domestic agenda. Against that, he is admired in these parts [i.e., the Corner] for his stand on the war.” Mark draws some comfort from the possibility that a President Hillary might fight a war for the consequences of which she would then be responsible — but not, it is fair to say, very much.
Where does this lead us? McCainiacs who think that voting for McCain is simply required by party loyalty and that since McCain is conservative on most issues, there is really “no problema,” should look at this question again. They need to summon up more sympathy for the Anti-McCainiacs. Casting such a vote would mean swallowing a lot of principle with little prospect of getting much practical in return. And if a McCain administration were to subsequently bear out the worst fears of the Anti-McCainiacs, then there would be hell to pay within the conservative coalition.
At the same time the McCainiacs are right to point out that it is hard to justify conservative abstentions or even votes against the GOP if the risk-benefit ratio falls heavily on the risk side. That would undeniably be the case if Hillary Clinton were the Democrat nominee since, both because of her virtues and her faults, Hillary promises a bitter partisan campaign and a techno-bureaucrat left-liberal administration with no benefit to conservatives that might temper these dangers.
That argument does not apply quite so effectively to an Obama candidacy — and for an interesting reason. In addition to conservative parties and conservative principles, there is a third consideration: what might be called “the conservative interest.” A political event is in the conservative interest if it strengthens and stabilizes the country. At times that greater strength may be to the disadvantage of the conservative party or come at some (temporary) cost in conservative principles. But when the smoke of battle clears, conservatives will see, sometimes with surprise, that the nation is better for the change from a conservative standpoint.
A British example: in 1923 when there was a three-way split in parliament with no single party having enough votes to rule alone, George V asked the Labour Party to form its first government with the argument (I quote from memory) “Labour must have its turn.”