The Corner

A McCainiac For Kerry

When I first met Marshall Wittmann, he was supporting Patrick Buchanan’s 1996 presidential campaign. (He later switched to Phil Gramm.) In 2000, he was an adviser to John McCain. Now he says he’s voting for Kerry.

He explains his evolution as a process of disillusionment. He came to see that the Republican party was merely a servant of corporate interests, and used social issues only to advance those interests. I take it that he is in some sense still a social conservative, but doesn’t believe that there is any practical difference between the parties on those issues. But he thinks that there is room in the Democratic party for a smarter hawkishness than Bush has provided, and believes the Democrats’ positions on economics to be superior to the Republicans’. If you accept Wittmann’s beliefs, assumptions, and priorities, the conclusion is certainly reasonable.

But Wittmann’s article is too laced with bitterness at Bush over the 2000 South Carolina primary, and especially at Wittmann’s former employer, Ralph Reed, to be able to determine where the political convictions end and the hurt feelings begin. (Would Wittmann view the campaign against Max Cleland so negatively if he didn’t have this prior experience with Reed and McCain? I doubt it.) Whatever dirty tricks Bush’s forces played in South Carolina–and I’ve seen considerably more in assertion than in evidence on that point–it is just a delusion of McCain’s supporters that they lost South Carolina because of dirty tricks. They lost the state largely on the tax issue, and the general (and accurate) perception that McCain wasn’t as conservative as Bush. I can see why McCainiacs would take this view. They ran a largely personality-based campaign, and they believe their guy was slimed–so of course they take it personally.

Wittmann also believes that President Bush sacrificed national unity by pushing for tax cuts. Now it may be that Bush would have built support for the war on terrorism by acquiescing in a temporary tax increase, as David Frum has argued. I doubt it. But it is pretty clear that Bush’s positions on social issues and his foreign policy have been far more divisive than the tax cuts have been. The Republican campaign to eliminate the estate tax drives liberal writers, and Wittmann, to distraction. But it has not been a major source of voter alienation from the GOP. Quite the contrary, which is why Democrats run scared on the issue.

All that said, I hope Wittmann is influential among the Democrats in his new job at the DLC. A Wittmannized Democratic party would be a better one.

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.

Most Popular

Culture

Our Real Systemic Problem

America’s got a problem that’s systemic in nature. This problem has less to do with individual intentions than the structure within which our intentions are formed. That structure explains a great deal about observed disparities in wealth, and other advantages, between various racial and ethnic groups. It ... Read More
Culture

Our Real Systemic Problem

America’s got a problem that’s systemic in nature. This problem has less to do with individual intentions than the structure within which our intentions are formed. That structure explains a great deal about observed disparities in wealth, and other advantages, between various racial and ethnic groups. It ... Read More
World

China’s Pandemic Deception

You’ve made it to December in our annus horribilis. On the menu today: sorting through CNN’s fascinating but not completely illuminating bombshell involving leaked documents from the Hubei, China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, filling in some details about the early days of the pandemic. More ... Read More
World

China’s Pandemic Deception

You’ve made it to December in our annus horribilis. On the menu today: sorting through CNN’s fascinating but not completely illuminating bombshell involving leaked documents from the Hubei, China Center for Disease Control and Prevention, filling in some details about the early days of the pandemic. More ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Cinderella Man 2

Welcome to “The Tuesday,” a weekly newsletter about politics, language, culture, and, this week, film criticism. To subscribe to “The Tuesday” and receive it in your inbox as God and John Wayne intended, please follow this link. The Mona Lisa of Hillbilly Literature The Ron Howard film Hillbilly Elegy, ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Cinderella Man 2

Welcome to “The Tuesday,” a weekly newsletter about politics, language, culture, and, this week, film criticism. To subscribe to “The Tuesday” and receive it in your inbox as God and John Wayne intended, please follow this link. The Mona Lisa of Hillbilly Literature The Ron Howard film Hillbilly Elegy, ... Read More
Elections

How Trump Could Have Reacted to the Election

It was predictable, and widely predicted, that Donald Trump would respond to an election loss, particularly one by as narrow a margin as this, with claims of fraud, efforts to delegitimize the outcome, and increasingly implausible attempts to find some lever to overturn it. Handling setbacks without grace or ... Read More
Elections

How Trump Could Have Reacted to the Election

It was predictable, and widely predicted, that Donald Trump would respond to an election loss, particularly one by as narrow a margin as this, with claims of fraud, efforts to delegitimize the outcome, and increasingly implausible attempts to find some lever to overturn it. Handling setbacks without grace or ... Read More