‘I urge my friends who complain about the influence of the religious Right, get out there and get busy. That’s what they do!”
That, of course, is a quote from one John McCain. I recycle it because primary season is not over yet, and the “religious Right” in 24 states has a voice Tuesday — feel free to get busy. But I also recycle it now by way of a caution to the McCain campaign.
Last week on Bill Bennett’s radio program, right after he won the Florida primary, John McCain said that it was “foolishness” to question an answer he gave Tim Russert on immigration on Meet the Press earlier that week. The senator had said he’d sign the McCain-Kennedy amnesty plan of last year if it wound up on his Oval Office desk. That was not a great start toward mending fences.
Perhaps, having sponsored McCain-Kennedy and all, he didn’t realize how it would come off to those on the other side of the issue (this is the read of at least one McCainiac insider I spoke to in the last week). McCain is where he is on this issue (and he’d be wise to be honest about that and offer to work with his conservative opponents; he prides himself on alliances with Ted Kennedy, so how about an open door to Tom Tancredo as well?). But McCain’s conservative surrogates don’t appear to have much better ears for conservatism; some of his conservative supporters are doing him no favors with the Right. On a California radio show last week, Michael Medved argued that many of the issues on which conservatives tend to disagree with McCain are irrelevant. Fred Barnes in The Weekly Standard this week lectures conservatives to “grow up.” Okay, conservatives, can we start with not referring to a “talk-radio mafia”?
Want some straight talk from a Romney supporter? I live in the real world. John McCain may well be the Republican nominee. That may be clear as early as this week. Conservatives who fought him on immigration last spring, who read Esquire, who listen to Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin and Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, who remember a John McCain open to running with John Kerry…are justified in being concerned about the “maverick” Arizona senator who stood proudly with pro-abortion politicians Rudy Giuliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger last week in California at a time when he was being urged to reconcile with conservatives.
If you want the base to work for you, Senator, it’s most important that you be honest. Don’t try to remake the conservative movement; don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. When you speak to conservatives, play it straight: You don’t listen to Rush. You’re not comfortable at the Family Research Council. Don’t pretend otherwise.
Make your pitch in a straightforward, honest way:
I want to close Guantanamo Bay. I thought Donald Rumsfeld was a disaster. Many of you probably disagree with me on the former and honor Rumsfeld for his service to our nation before anything else. But, my friends, know this: I don’t want to surrender in Iraq and the Democrats running do. Hillary Clinton had the audacity to all but call General Petraeus, the man who turned the war in Iraq around, a liar in September. That is unacceptable. That is a disgrace. My friends, I stood squarely for “no surrender.” I stand squarely for “no surrender.” My friends, I ask you, on behalf of this country you and I love, stand with me, despite our differences.
Will we have arguments down the line? Will you lash out against me from time to time? I’ll bet on it. But you and I have more in common than you and Hillary Clinton or the man whom National Journal rates as the most liberal senator, Barack Obama.
Mitt Romney is fighting today and tomorrow for the three legs of the stool — keeping the Republican party conservative on foreign policy, economics, and social issues. I hope he succeeds. With close races in some Super Tuesday states and with what we’ve seen so far (few would have put their money on McCain being anything close to a front-runner a few months ago), it’s possible. But if he doesn’t succeed and steps aside, John McCain would be wise not to pretend to be the guy that Fred Thompson and Mitt Romney supporters have been dreaming would be their nominee. He’s not the man of conservatives’ dreams, nor does he want to be. So, play it straight, Senator. Take some advice from someone who wants you defeated tomorrow (me), but who also wants the good guys to win in November.
John McCain’s “True Conservative” commercial claims he is “A proud social conservative who will never waver.” It was jarring for a conservative to watch this weekend. Senator, the Washington Post reported this weekend that you’ve told reporters “It’s not social issues I care about.” That rings true. I suspect it is true. Give conservatives that “straight talk” you talk about; we can take it. And we’ll try to work with you from there if it comes to that.