John McCain won the Republican primaries by running as a pro-life Reagan Republican, committed to low taxes and a strong defense. We assume that he will therefore pick a running mate who shares his positions on fundamental issues whom conservatives can support with enthusiasm. We assume, as well, that he is more interested in winning the White House than in redefining the Republican party, and will not try to make the party platform reflect each of his views.
Win or lose, in picking a running mate Senator McCain will also be conferring front-runner status on a candidate for his party’s future nomination. A selection that reassures wary conservatives will help to enthuse his supporters for the tough race he faces. We also assume the senator appreciates that the right pick is good politics.
Should the senator make an error in judgment in these respects, however, conservatives should have an insurance policy. With the names of unacceptable candidates being bandied about as possible picks, conservatives should bear in mind that they are not powerless with respect to McCain’s choice. The delegates to the Republican convention have real clout. Even McCain’s own delegates should be willing to use their power, if necessary, to pursue the party’s (and McCain’s) best interests.
Those rules are such that delegates cannot vote against the presidential candidate’s vice-presidential pick. But that pick needs a majority of all delegates to win the nomination, and delegates are allowed to abstain. If a majority of six states’ delegations support another vice-presidential candidate, meanwhile, they can force a floor vote on that alternative. Six delegations are all that is required to contest a portion of the platform, too.
Most conservatives are willing to support McCain this fall, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, and are willing to work with him before and afterward. But conservatives are not, and should not be, willing to go along with McCain no matter what. Delegates should be prepared to stand for their principles, and the party’s future.