McCain and Moderate ControlThere is no small debate among conservatives about what a John McCain victory will mean for the conservative movement. Some conservatives, such as my dear friend Rob Huddleston, believe that the time is now to bolt the old Republican ship and consider a third-party candidate because no real conservative actually trusts McCain. The great problem with this, of course, is that no third-party candidate has a snowball's chance in Hell of actually winning. A vote on principle is utterly useless if it accomplishes no positive good, if it renders an outcome antithetical to the very principles that it purports to uphold-and in this case, throwing the country to the enemy accomplishes no good whatsoever. (It would be one thing if a third-party candidate finished by not only winning electoral votes, but electing members of Congress from the same party-without doing so, it is a quixotic exercise.)
I tend to share the belief of Adam Graham that a McCain victory may result in the unusual combination of a Republican electoral vote victory along with further Democratic gains in the House and perhaps the Senate as well. John McCain is not the choice of his party for the Republican nomination-he received no consensus from us. He managed to do wiggle his way in at the hands of independents and Democrats, or in the case of Florida closed primary, because the conservative vote was split. Further, I agree with D.R. Tucker of Human Events about who will control the party in the wake of a McCain victory:
A John McCain Presidential victory in November will be an event twenty-eight years in the making.
The centrist-moderate wing of the GOP was left for dead in 1980, when its icon—George H. W. Bush—lost to Ronald Reagan in the Republican primary. Republicans who were not comfortable with Reagan-style social conservatism quietly grumbled as Reagan moved the party, and the country, to the right in the 1980s. For years, they’ve tried to figure out a way to once again control the GOP nominating process. McCain’s nomination is their triumph.
If McCain wins, the centrist counterrevolutionaries will be every bit as happy as conservatives were nearly three decades ago. In their minds, McCain represents the real Republican Party: a party that seeks compromise instead of conservatism, a party that believes in a “Big Tent” as opposed to fidelity to the principles of the right. One can call them RINOs, quasi-conservatives, even militant moderates. If McCain wins, however, one will have to call them dominant.
McCain’s support comes from those who thought Reagan and Gingrich were too radical, those who thought Goldwater was a wacky warmonger, those who thought William F. Buckley was just a bit out there. McCain is the Prime Minister of Moderate Republicanism, the George H. W. Bush of the 2000s, the holy figure of political centrism.
As an ideology, centrism is not one. The proponents of "consensus politics" have no principles, their primary concern being what is popular at the moment. There has always been a quiet civil war within the Republican Party between the proponents of the moderate way, generally the country club crowd, and the believers in the conservative cause for the sake of its truth. The spinelessness and daily gutless conduct of the Rockefeller Republicans has always goaded me to my very core, and the reality is that the consensus politics crowd sees the Republican Party as an instrument with which to win elections, not a party with a set of principles by which to govern.
When the moderates have controlled the party before, they brought it to national ruination. They elected a President for two terms in Dwight Eisenhower, but destroyed the Republicans ' majority in Congress-something the GOP would take nearly half-a-century to regain. The great heroes of the moderates, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, proved to be mediocre presidents and political flops of the first order. It has been my personal experience that moderates have about as much firmness as flat beer, and have the solidity of a bowl of Jell-o. Moderate control of the Republican Party is likely to usher in a period of political mediocrity not hitherto seen since the 1970's. Happy Days Are Here Again.
Political parties are broad churches, however. Moderate control of the GOP is terrible for the party's future, but running the moderates off entirely could cause the Republicans to suffer the same fate the Democrats did when that party ran the last of its conservatives out as a movement in the 1960's and '70's. The choice to run the last Southern (conservative) Democrats out of the party in the 1960's and 70's planted the seeds of Democrats' long inability in the 1990's and 2000's to control the national consensus. Even I have endorsed a moderate from time to time (see Alexander, Lamar) based on the "first do no harm" principle-and because I have believed the moderates that I have endorsed to at least be in tune with the conservative wishes of their constituents.
If the moderates do gain control of the GOP by means of a McCain victory, conservatives will be in for a long night in the wilderness. That does not mean the movement is dead, far from it. Conservatives who believe this are entirely too quick to forget history. People who fought for the movement for years lived and even died before seeing the movement triumph in the election of Ronald Reagan-but no one ever gave up and abandoned ship-and the persistence paid off.
We should remember that before we all start singing "Gloom, Despair, and Agony On Me."
[As a side note, Rob Huddleston pointed out correctly that he and I are friends-Rob is very right. There are few people I would trust with elected office completely-Rob is one of those people. He's as genuine off of the internet as he is on it. I hope he runs for Congress from the First District one day.]