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January 13, 2008

It's Sunday
Posted by Shadi Hamid

And I've overdosed on Kathryn Jean Lopez. The Cornerites seem to really despise John McCain. But, not only that, they seem to be genuinely baffled as to how he's assumed front-runner status. And for good reason. McCain has dissented on so many of the core issues that define mainstream conservatism. I always used to think of Republicans as less willing to dissent from Republican orthodoxy (as evidenced by Reagan's "commandment" - thou shalt not publicly criticize another conservative, or something like that). Yet, if this is the case, then how do you explain the fact that Republicans might very well nominate someone who isn't even considered to be a conservative by many in the party?

Similarly, I used to think that liberals were much more willing to dissent from Democratic orthodoxy, yet it's very difficult to imagine the McCain equivalent in our party getting any significant support. Thoughts?


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It's all a sham. McCain isn't really a dissenter, he's an idealogical conservative and always has been, on both foreign and domestic issues. As for whether a McCain type can succeed in Democratic politics, I guess it depends on what you mean. Somebody who runs from the left side of the Democratic party? It's been done with varying degrees of success and failure. If you mean "adopting positions like McCain holds," well... then you're a Republican. See Lieberman, Joe.

One can go astray pretty easily thinking about Republican politics primarily in terms of how Republicans think about issues.

It is always possible to find prominent conservatives like George Will, who during the 2000 campaign wrote much more often about the evils of McCain's campaign finance reform bill than he did about what the next President ought to do about terrorism, who are zeroed in on particular areas of public policy. Most Republicans aren't, not over time anyway (steady majorities of Republicans through the years will voice their support of themes, like smaller government or a strong defense, but this is not the same thing).

The lowest common denominator in national Republican politics has little to do with issues. Republicans tend to both give their political loyalty and make a strong emotional commitment to politicians who appear as strong leaders who will stand up to liberals and the media. The same Republicans will, at different stages of their lives, have invested themselves deeply in the public positions of Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush -- three men of widely divergent views and wildly divergent personal characteristics, who nonetheless all met during their respective Presidencies the two primary demands of a large number of the most committed Republican voters.

McCain only meets one of them. Most of his Republican detractors would admit, if pressed, that he has the appearance of a strong leader. However, hostility to liberals and the media -- two groups that many Republicans regard as they would the sides of a coin -- is not part of McCain's public image, or of his private views, and many Republicans resent this. Despite McCain's strenuous efforts, many Republicans also resent his criticisms of President Bush in the past. Much of the discontent of some GOP loyalists in this year's field of Presidential candidates is due to the fact that none of the candidates are comparable to Bush, who most of them happily supported in the last two election cycles and who has come to dominate the party's electoral machinery more completely than either Nixon or Reagan ever did. The other GOP candidates, though, never challenged Bush the way McCain has, either personally or on the issues.

As far as National Review is concerned, the publication has a long history of defining itself in opposition to liberals and the rest of the media. My personal history with the magazine is dated, but when I worked there a Republican with a reputation for cutting deals with people like Ted Kennedy would have exposed himself to the same hostility directed at McCain now.

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