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We’ve seen this narrative play out before. It doesn’t end well.
In 2006, the Democrats could taste their takeover of Congress months before the November elections. That summer, the far-left, virulently anti-war faction of the party went all out to defeat longtime Democratic Senator and former Vice-Presidential candidate Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut Senate primary. They succeeded in replacing Lieberman as the Democratic nominee with a MoveOn.org backed candidate named Ned Lamont. The thinking was that in a huge Democratic year in a solidly Democratic state, Lamont would easily win the general election against his G.O.P opponent.
That’s not what happened.
Instead, Lieberman ran as an independent and garnered enough support from independents, moderate Democrats and Republicans to beat Lamont and earn himself another six year term. Since then, Lieberman has been a consistent thorn in the side of the Democratic Party, speaking out against the party establishment’s weak-kneed approach to terrorism and the wars in the Middle East and, most recently, killing the Public Option, the path to single payer health care that the American Left wanted more than any other item in the health care bill.
Now, with the winds of change finally blowing in our direction, conservatives are faced with an almost identically delicate situation. A long-serving senator with a famous independent streak who was recently the standard bearer for the Republican Party is facing a close primary fight. Many conservative purists, led in part by the Tea Party movement, want to punish John McCain for his past sins, confident that his G.O.P. replacement, J.D. Hayworth will be capable of holding onto the McCain seat in November.
But conservatives really need to think this through. The consequences of a McCain loss in the Arizona primary are unpredictable and present a risk of serious damage to the conservative movement.
McCain’s conservative critics rightfully point to his vote against the Bush tax cuts, his push for amnesty and his flirtation with global warming alarmism as proof that he lacks ideological consistency. While there is some doubt about his dedication to the conservative cause, there can be no doubt about his resolve and the size of his ego. I seriously doubt that the guy who survived five years of torture (Not waterboarding. Actual torture.) in a Viet Cong interment camp is going to simply pack it in if he loses a G.O.P primary in a state where he is immensely popular and has enjoyed bipartisan support for 25 years.
If McCain loses to Hayworth in the primary, my guess is that he will take a page from the book of his good buddy Joe Lieberman and run as an independent. If this occurs, one of two scenarios will unfold.
In all likelihood, McCain will piece together enough support from moderate Republicans, conservative Democrats and his state’s independents to get on the November ballot and win the general election. He will then feel beholden to no ideology and spend the next six years exacting revenge on the conservatives who ousted him by making crummy deals with Barack Obama and the Democrats.
And that’s the best case scenario.
In the other scenario, McCain runs as an independent, splits the conservative vote with Hayworth in the general and hands the seat to a Democrat. If losing this one seat keeps us from taking back the Senate in November, who benefits the most? If you said “Barack Hussein Obama,” you guessed right.
The balance of power is not the only area where throwing John McCain under the bus may negatively impact the conservative cause.
Despite his high profile breaks with the G.O.P in the past, McCain has been rock solid in his opposition to the Obama agenda. Given his history as a bipartisan “maverick” you would have thought McCain would have been first in line to cut deals with the once popular Obama on the stimulus package and health care reform. But McCain stuck with the conservatives while true RINOs like Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, Arlen Specter and Charlie Crist jumped ship. Not only that, but McCain used his high national profile to lead the charge against these terrible ideas. He must be given his share of the credit for helping turn public opinion against Obama’s big government agenda and giving the G.O.P new life politically. McCain, more than any other member of the Republican caucus, seems to have received the small government, anti-income redistribution message being sent by the Tea Party and is behaving accordingly. It simply doesn’t make sense to fire someone who has been doing exactly what we’ve been demanding Republicans do for the last year.
On issues like earmark reform and national security, McCain has been with the conservatives all along. He never buckled during the Iraq debate, even when George W. Bush was wallowing in 30% approval ratings. Despite losing an election that would have been unwinnable for anyone with an “R” next to their name, McCain maintains credibility unmatched by anyone in the Republican Party on matters of foreign policy and national security. When he speaks on these subjects, he repeatedly exposes the amateurish, naiveté of the current administration.
Unlike the now powerless anti-war movement, the vast majority of Tea Partiers are not radical ideologues. Also unlike the anti-war Left, the Tea Partiers are promoting views that are shared by a majority of Americans. But, as they have made perfectly obvious throughout the course of the last week, the mainstream media has it out for the Tea Partiers and are searching tirelessly for a brush with which to paint its participants as extremists.
If conservative purists are successful in ousting McCain, who is still viewed by many as someone who believes in bipartisanship and who has reached across the aisle throughout his career (a quality that independent voters still crave) his defeat will be used as a bludgeon against all conservatives. Our opponents and the mainstream media will portray conservatives and Republicans as being the doorkeepers of a small tent who eat their own candidates if they exhibit anything other than a lifelong pattern of ideological purity. Such an act of political cannibalism will appear even more irrational if the guy being eaten is the same dude we were trying to make leader of the free world less than two years ago.
So while I completely understand the desire of conservatives to see Republicans with a history of liberal votes kicked out of office, this should not lead us to equate a John McCain with the likes of Dede Scozzafava.
What, exactly, would conservatives stand to gain by acting so vengefully? Seriously. What's the payoff on this one?
If we want to send the message that RINOism will no longer be tolerated, there are other ways to do so using the political process that don’t risk devastating the conservative power structure by giving the boot to popular, longstanding incumbents.
For example, it looks as though Florida conservatives intend to punish G.O.P establishment candidate Charlie Crist for supporting President Obama’s non-stimulating, stimulus by nominating Marco Rubio in a landslide.
Rand Paul is doing very well against another RNC backed candidate in Kentucky.
That’s fine with me as well.
But we conservatives shouldn’t put ourselves in a position where we abandon those who have spent their lives as dedicated advocates for many fundamental conservative principles, simply because they haven’t been true to our favored ideology 100% of the time.
After the Left took down Joe Lieberman in the 2006 Democratic primary, conservative talk radio hosts and cable commentators blasted the Left for throwing a principled politician overboard simply because he didn’t toe the liberal line on a few issues. They were right to do so and their liberal counterparts will be completely justified in blasting conservatives if they abandon McCain.
I have nothing against J.D. Hayworth. But the last thing our new conservative juggernaut needs right now is our own Ned Lamont.
Ronald Reagan believed that the person who voted with him 80% of the time was his friend. I assure you that he would have been adamantly opposed to the way in which many conservatives are abandoning Senator McCain in the name of ideological purity.
Monday, March 29, 2010
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Posted by Falling Panda at 8:59 PM