The Corner

Leverage and a One-Term Pledge

Andy McCarthy wonders what leverage conservatives would have over John McCain if he took a one-term pledge. He also again raises his concern that McCain’s zeal for campaign-finance regulation puts his commitment to appointing originalist judges into question. To take the second point first: If McCain nominates bad judges, it will be because he has let non-conservatives staff his legal team or because he does not want to fight the Senate. I really don’t think it will be because of campaign-finance reform. For good or ill, McCain just doesn’t seem like the sort of person who thinks about the connections between public-policy issues in that way. McCain could solve a big part of his problem with conservatives if he would name some people whose advice he would heed on nominations.

Regarding conservatives’ leverage: It is true that conservatives would no longer have the disciplining power of a primary challenge to McCain in 2012. But I doubt that threat would have much value to begin with. It is worth noting that President Bush in his second term governed to the right of Bush in his first term, even though he no longer faced re-election. (Discretionary spending growth slowed down, for example, and the creation of a new entitlement was followed by an attempt to inject market forces into an old one.)

McCain would probably want to see himself succeeded by a Republican, and that would give conservatives some leverage.  They would certainly have leverage over the vice president, who would probably gain influence as the term went on.

Anyway, most of us who have advocated a one-term pledge have not done so in isolation. The pledge would best achieve its desired political effects if coupled with a compelling center-right mission–seeing the country through the next phase of the war on terrorism, reforming taxes and spending, and appointing sound judges might be three of the components of that mission. The idea would be for McCain to campaign to be able to do those things, not just to be president for as long as possible; and running in that way would generate its own constraints.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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