haven’t been keeping score, but my sense has been that National Review
stays out of Republican congressional primary races, at least most of the time. This is a good thing. It reflects an ethos focused on the strategic direction of the conservative movement rather than tactical politics. It underscores that issues are more critical to us than personalities.
As a practical matter, moreover, it avoids diminishing the magazine’s prestige. A candidate who wins despite NR’s endorsement of his opponent could become hostile — and less open to our ideas — especially because he knows NR’s endorsement of the other guy will be used by the Left as a cudgel against him. And then there’s NR’s readership: Not only would the magazine appear less influential if its conservative readers reject its preferred candidate; readers will be doubly miffed if their preferred candidate loses a tight general-election race to a leftist who has exploited the NR endorsement.
For all these reasons and more, I was disappointed to see the editors abandon prudent restraint and dive into the 2010 primary fray. More disappointing, though, is that, of all the candidates on whose behalf this improvident decision might have been made, NR’s prestige has been put on the line for John McCain, the incumbent Arizona senator being challenged from the right by former congressman J. D. Hayworth.
As I argued in an extensive analysis
of McCain’s policy stands during the 2008 campaign, the senator is not a conservative. He is a big-government progressive in the mold of his hero, Teddy Roosevelt. It is unsurprising, then, that the editors are forced to concede, at the outset of their endorsement
, that it would be “an understatement” to say NR “has not always agreed with Sen. John McCain’s judgment.” Understatement indeed: We are talking here about the same John McCain who was beseeched to be the runningmate of John Kerry — perhaps the Democrats’ most left-leaning presidential candidate until Barack Obama came along. The Kerry dance was a natural. As a presidential candidate himself in 2000, McCain had asserted that, if elected, he would turn to Kerry — along with then-senator Joe Biden and Zbigniew Brzezinski (President Jimmy Carter’s national-security adviser) — “to get foreign-policy, national-security issues back on track.”
The editors’ case for McCain is depressingly weak and bereft of balance. They offer three rationales: (1) that McCain, though not reliable, is “usually . . . on the conservative side of national controversies”; (2) that “when McCain is right he can have a terrific impact”; and (3) that Hayworth is “not obviously a more exemplary statesman than McCain.” The first claim is meritless, which explains the skewed version of history offered in its behalf. The second claim overrates McCain’s national-security credentials and ignores the horrible impact he can have when he is wrong, which he often is. The third claim — which mugs Hayworth’s reputation after airbrushing McCain’s — is, at best, a basis for hewing to the sage practice of remaining above the endorsement business, not for endorsing McCain.
USUALLY ON THE CONSERVATIVE SIDE?
McCain is no stalwart conservative. The editors’ lawyerly contention that “he has never voted for a broad-based tax increase” conveniently ignores his opposition to the Bush tax cuts
, often voiced in cringe-making class-warfare terms — self-righteous rhetoric being a McCain trademark. Obviously, the lapsing of the Bush tax cuts will effect a huge tax increase. It is thus odd for the editors to go mum on McCain’s strident opposition to those cuts while advertising his supposed distaste for tax hikes. But there’s much more to the story than that.