Politics & Policy

Should McClintock Stay or Go?

Peter Robinson: Stay in

Hugh, you’re so skilled at unfurling a phrase — responding to the delay of the recall on your website the other day, you got off the best line I saw anywhere, expressing your hope that the Supreme Court “knocks this [Ninth Circuit] panel so hard their teeth end up in Hawaii” — that you’ve almost won me over.


The 90 percent of conservatives in the California legislature whose opposition to McClintock you cite? Our friends Chris Cox, Dana Rohrabacher, and Dave Drier, all of whom endorsed Schwarzenegger — all of whom, indeed, rushed to endorse Schwarzenegger? I can’t escape the feeling that they all find Tom McClintock a little…hard to take.

Tom McClintock is cocksure, sharp-tongued, and opinionated. But I write this in a hotel room in New York City, a town that just a decade ago found itself in as big a mess as the one California confronts today. Who turned New York City around? A nice guy? A sweetheart? A puffball? No. The cocksure, sharp-tongued, and opinionated Rudy Giulani. Sometimes it takes a guy with an edge to get the job done.

Yes, Ronald Reagan did often say, “Facts are stubborn things.” (That was his own line, by the way, not one written by us speechwriters.) But Ronald Reagan was a stubborn man. In 1976, you’ll recall, Reagan lost five primaries in a row. Eleven former chairmen of the RNC, the National Conference of Republican Mayors, and one Republican governor after another called on him to withdraw from the race. Then, in North Carolina, Reagan won an unexpected and crushing victory, turning his campaign around. True, in the end he still lost the primary fight to Gerald Ford, if narrowly. But he transformed the GOP — and laid the groundwork for his own victory in 1980.

I say it again: Politics is open-ended, contingent, and malleable. Should McClintock fight on? The Gipper himself would have done no less.

Peter Robinson, research fellow at the Hoover Institution and host of Uncommon Knowledge on PBS, is author, most recently, of How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life. Robinson is a frequent contributor to NRO’s weblog, “The Corner.”


Hugh Hewitt: Stay in

Peter is a writer. He dreams dreams. He sees visions. He enjoys crusades.

Although I host a radio show, I remain a lawyer, with a lawyer’s disposition. When Peter and I officed next door to each other in the Reagan White House (actually the OEOB), his office is where music played and debates raged. The conversations were high-minded and the authors quoted were philosophers.

Through the Counsel’s Office next door, on the other hand, came boring reality — the stuff of legal documents and FBI background files on the way to the Senate, financial disclosure forms and cease-and-desist letters outbound to abusers of the presidential seal.

Our mindsets, then, are different. The training has little in common. Which explains how Peter could write in yesterday’s installment:

“What are the Arnoids so worried about? A few absentee ballots may get cast for McClintock that would otherwise have been cast for Schwarzenegger, but very, very few.”

Peter cites an estimable authority for this disarming aside: John Fund. I agree that John Fund is an excellent authority on the recall. But again, we lawyers tend to worry about details. We distrust expert testimony that appears to contradict inconvenient facts.

Such as the fact that 31,000 absentees had been received in four northern counties by Monday, and another 30,000 in Los Angeles County alone. Let’s take the best number for Tom that has been seen in any poll: 18 percent. What is 18 percent of 61,000 votes? If we use the number that Tom’s fans are using, it is possible that around 11,000 McClintock votes may have already been cast and more streaming in by the day. But Peter is not concerned over “a few absentee ballots that may get cast for McClintock that would otherwise have been cast for Schwarzenegger?”

More absentees votes are being cast every hour of every day between now and October 7 (assuming that’s Election Day) than made up the total difference in votes between Bush and Gore in Florida in 2000. Peter and John are two very smart guys, and perhaps we ought not to worry. After all, Tom’s real support is closer to 10 percent, so its only 6,000 or so wasted votes thus far. And Florida was an anomaly. It couldn’t happen again.

But even the 6,000 votes bother me. Do you recall the agony of November and December 2000, where shifts of a handful of votes mattered?

It seems to me that people asking us to take Tom McClintock seriously have to themselves take Tom McClintock seriously. His candidacy is bleeding real votes from Arnold, votes that could give the state to Cruz Bustamante, and by doing so, post a huge opportunity cost in the GOP debit column heading into 2004.

The speechwriters used to hate when their work would be routed all over the White House for commentary, and it was often absurd to have non-writers flyspecking the beautiful prose and sometimes poetry of Peter and his able colleagues. The lawyers were especially a pain in the neck. Always nagging about the details of this or that line. Raising stupid, time-consuming questions; nitpickers every one of us.

Perhaps this is just more lawyerly nitpicking, but there seems to me to be something substantial about 6,000, or 11,000, or many more thousands of votes. Yes, I am worried. Who, who wanted to win, wouldn’t be?

Eventually the McClintock supporters have to confront the fact that they may be giving California over to Cruz Cruise. Is that worth the fun of the McClintock campaign?

Hugh Hewitt is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host and author, most recently, of In, But Not Of: A Guide to Christian Ambition.


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