That this magazine has not always agreed with Sen. John McCain’s judgments is an understatement. For a few years at the start of the decade, not an issue went by, it seemed, without our feeling obligated to criticize the Arizona Republican. That conservatives in his state should be in the market for a senator who agrees with them more consistently is not remarkable.
But there are three considerations that militate against dumping McCain for his primary challenger, former congressman J. D. Hayworth. The first is that McCain has usually been on the conservative side of national controversies. He has never voted for a broad-based tax increase, he has voted for every conservative on the Supreme Court, and he has a long pro-life record. By itself this voting record does not compel conservative support for him: Hayworth had a conservative record, too. But it does make the case against McCain less compelling. He may not be Marco Rubio, but he’s not Arlen Specter either.
Second, when McCain is right he can have a terrific impact. McCain has a credibility on national security that few other Republicans can match. It is entirely possible that without Senator McCain we would have left Iraq in ignominy. Few legislators ever accomplish as much good as McCain did through his leadership on the surge. Conservatives should be grateful for this service and appreciative of the wisdom and fortitude that made it possible. This accomplishment, in our judgment, more than makes up for McCain’s mistakes, the impact of which has also been major (as in the cases of campaign-finance regulation and interrogation policy).
Third, Hayworth is, to say the least, not obviously a more exemplary statesman than McCain. On one of the most pressing issues of the day — the need to control federal spending — McCain has had the better record. That Hayworth appeared in infomercials to tell people how to get “free money” from the government underscores the point rather emphatically.
If McCain had a different challenger, we might think differently. But, taken together, these considerations move us to suggest that Arizona Republicans nominate Senator McCain. If ever we needed legislators who favor a resolute foreign policy and budget restraint, that time is now.