Redstate Roundtable II: How McCain Can Reach Out To Conservatives
By Ben Domenech Posted in 2008 | conservative crackup | John McCain | Redstate Roundtable — Comments (24) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
REDSTATE ROUNDTABLE II: HOW McCAIN CAN REACH OUT TO CONSERVATIVES
John McCain will need conservative voters to win in November. Some, of course, will support him automatically, either out of a sense that he's conservative enough or out of a desire to keep the Democrats out of the White House. But what can McCain realistically and credibly do between now and then to win over enough of the GOP base to have a fighting chance against Hillary or Obama? Which parts of the base will be the most fertile targets for his appeals?
He can start by promising to work to fix "Campaign Finance Reform," whether he's President of the United States in January or not.
Let me also note that I will vote for him if he is the nominee.
I will too, Moe. But I actually think abandoning his campaign finance reform crusade would cost him more in credibility than it would gain him. I'd say the wiser course on that issue is to say as little about it as possible, propose no new legislation and stand by quietly while the Roberts Court starts dismantling the bill one small sliver at a time, starting with the 'millionaire amendment' challenge now before the Court. I'd certainly advise McCain not to file any more briefs with the Court on that issue if he can avoid it.
I think John McCain has to continue stressing what is conservative about John McCain, and he ought to do it with passion. He's anti-abortion, which is fine, but I want to hear him talk about why it is such a tragedy. I want more passion on lower taxes and less government, and he can do that easily enough because he already gives a decent talk.
Aside from that, it seems likely that once we get over this initial bout of anger at and fear of McCain, the thing which caused some conservatives to back such as Romney when McCain and Huckabee seemed the only alternatives, conservatives will look at the situation, analyze it, and they'll support McCain. It's already happened for me, and the Exits I heard last night shows that this is also the case in Maryland (moreso than in Virginia).
As a youthful analyst might say, injecting some real world realization into this: "Conservatives don't wanna be blowed up."
Francis Cianfrocca (blackhedd)
I have a gut sense that the immigration issue won't bite as hard as we all expect. Illegal immigration from Mexico has been driven in large part by labor demand from housing/construction, agriculture, and (in some areas) more specialized industries. Well, construction has collapsed. I hear anecdotally that a lot of Mexican construction workers (who make top dollar, by the way, and do not displace Americans, who simply don't have the same skills as the Mexicans) have been heading home. Agriculture is starting to hurt badly in locations like Western Colorado that have started enforcing restrictions on illegals.
In short, I think McCain's softness on illegal immigration won't hurt him as much as it might have, simply because the problem isn't as big. Although it might happen that if people like Hannity and Limbaugh demagogue the issue, it could turn into a problem.
On economic policy generally, McCain has started saying a lot of the right things. (Free trade, lower taxes, less regulation.) I've heard that he's also assembling an A-team to advise him on economic matters. (Gramm is supposedly among them.) But he's a neophyte on the economy. The only way for him to get credibility with me is to surround himself with quality people and let them do a lot of the talking. I don't think McCain himself will learn much about the global economy, and his focus will be on the military dimensions of foreign policy anyway.
And Phil Gramm is nice, but old-school academic economists only take you so far. Doctrinaire free-marketism is fine and dandy. But we also need some younger guys who have the right perspective on global growth and development, and how the US economy can do well while doing good in that context.
Mark is right, and the best thing that could be done - which has been more a problem for McCain's surrogates and supporters than McCain himself - is to quit demanding that people get on board. Also, what might be termed "McCainbots" (to use what is apparently now the trendy term) need to quit selling McCain as the second coming.
McCain has made it hard for himself to back off some position that, just a few weeks ago, he could have credibly backed away from (e.g. his insistence that it was not a mistake to vote against the Bush tax cuts, when he could have said something like, "I voted against the cuts because they did not have corresponding spending reductions" - aside, this is not what he said at the time, but it's worked for him so far - "but in retrospect it's clear that they've been an important factor in keeping the country from slipping into recession and it's a good thing that they passed, with or without spending cuts at the time. They absolutely must not be allowed to expire. But we still need to cut spending, and we'll start tackling spending the day I move into the oval office.")
He cannot just mouth that he wants Roberts and Alito - he needs to talk about why he wants them, and why support for McCain-Feingold isn't going to be a litmus test for anyone he appoints.
He can do it, but so far the issue hasn't been terribly effective. But as I noted, that may be less McCain's fault than the fault of those purportedly trying to help him.
Finesse it or bull-china shop it; I want it gone.
Following up on Brad's point that McCain (and his surrogates) needs to become less demanding of fealty, I would recommend that he eradicate as much as possible the vicious and vindictive from his campaign rhetoric. Especially if Obama is indeed the nominee, demanding, crabby and mean is not going to win this thing. Generous, noble and heroic is a better bet.
He needs to stop insisting he is a Conservative, he needs to stop reminding us he was a foot soldier in the Reagan revolution, and he needs to stop saying things like Hillary would make a fine President. What he HAS to do is stop trying to convince himself through his microphone that he's a Conservative, and start pimping the issues and framing them around what Conservatism USED to mean, and when, where, why, and HOW he's going to bring that all back to America.
And he needs to quit worrying about the freaking demographics of the Independents and Moderates and Reagan Democrats, and start explaining what taxes he'll cut, HOW that's a Conservative thing to do, WHICH spending foolishness he's going to put a stop to and HOW that's a Conservative thing to do...oh-I could go on, but the bottom line is he needs to stop TELLING us he's a Conservative, and start ACTING like one...even if it includes an apology for every freaking time he wandered off the reservation-or at LEAST tell us why he thought it was the right thing to do at the time.
BTD's advice to John McCain:
1. Start doing what you do best: being your angry irascible self, except this time aimed at the Democrats. Partner with free market and traditionally conservative groups to do townhalls in the lower 48 that make a solid, aggressive, sustained case for your candidacy and build a full McCain straight-talk-about-the-Left brigade. Bring along local conservatives - not ALL your endorsees, but conservatives. In Virginia last night you had John Warner, Jeannemarie Devolites and Tom Davis standing behind you - no more, that's the old guard that you do NOT want onstage. When you come back to VA, do your tour with George Allen and Eric Cantor. Hone your stump speech down to ten minutes and then do extensive Q&A. Pick your topics depending on the state, and unleash hell.
2. For the next two months, stump with every leader you ever knew who trusts you and is viewed as a conservative - Nickles, Coburn, Brownback, Kyl, Coleman, Thune, Thompson, Coats, Danforth, Pawlenty, Barbour, Gramm, etc...and now that he's endorsed you, yes, even Cornyn. Directly appeal to the grassroots by working with state-level conservatives to get the right audiences. Give the free market speech, the health care speech, the life speech, the gun/crime speech, the Israel speech. Go talk to socons in the South and libertarians in the West. Don't talk down to them: make yourself into a guided weapon for their causes. Forget agreeing with them on paper: in each case, acknowledge past disagreements but draw the focus to the sheer idiocy of the Left's answers to solutions. The Left's answers are naive and foolhardy - they have been tried, we've seen their answers, and they've failed. Establish this narrative with every older group you can find. For the younger folks, talk war, courage, individual freedom and personal responsibility. Stand athwart, you know the drill.
3. Continue to ignore the far right. No one who talks about voting for Hillary or Obama over you or gets into Juan McCain deserves a second glance. They're irrelevant. Don't make a mistake and throw them a bone to beat you with.
4. Mend fences with the evangelicals - not through Rick Warren, but through personal testimony and interviews with World, CT, and any number of other faith-friendly outlets. Use Huck if you need to. Hit as many of the evangelical Sun Belt Latino denominations as you can.
5. Bring your daughters along for the ride.
6. Pick Sanford.
A couple points in response to Brad and haystack
1. I think the issue of pressuring people to get on the McCain bandwagon will slow some once Huckabee drops out and we have formal unity behind a nominee. Of course, pundits and bloggers who then continue throwing bombs at McCain instead of the Democrats are going to create some friction, but that's likely to be specific to individuals and their audiences.
2. The "Hillary would be a fine president" thing is a bum rap on McCain, they asked him on TV while she was sitting right next to him, and she said much the same about him.
Dear Senator McCain:
Those folks on the other side attack the "failed policies of the last eight years." As a cure, they offer the failed policies of the last century.
Make this your message and convince folks that it's your belief. Let everything flow from it. You'll not only start undercutting the Left -- we love it when people do that -- but the way you do it tells us that you agree with us, whether you do or not.
Do this simple thing, and win.
Thomas H. Crown
Dan, I'll grant you that-but imagine what Reagan might have said: "She'd make a fine President...if you want to live under the oppression of Liberal governance. I think America deserves better than that, and the Founders would have agreed."
I think that Reagan wouldn't have said "the oppression of." He was a gentleman; for that matter, he could transmit that thought without saying a word.
I agree 100% with Ben and Thomas that taking on the other side is the best medicine of all. That's a big part of why I was with Rudy. I supported McCain for a while in 2000 (although I repented of it later) in large part after hearing that blistering speech he gave in New Hampshire laying into "the truth-twisting politics of Bill Clinton and Al Gore" and comparing that to what seemed up to that time like Bush's conscientious-objector status in the fight against the Clinton machine.
The bonus is that if you say it right, it sounds like Reagan. I'm not going to puff myself up and say I accomplished that, but I will say it's what I was shooting for: A serious, substantive, conservative point made with a light joke. McCain has actually managed that from time to time. Now would be a great time to pour it on.
You accomplished it. Rhetorically, you won one for the Gipper.
I've never received a greater compliment. Thank you, sir.
Now tell Mrs. Crown that you forgot to duck the compliment.
I agree with Brad that some careful, strong, substantive arguments about the judicial usurpation of politics could go a long way for him. He's got to go beyond mere platitude and catchphrase on this, so as to persuade at least a few of us that he understands the threat to the Republic from rogue judges.
I think McCain could also help himself by some careful statements toward a clearer understanding of the character of our enemy. His war credentials are strong, but his national security position is weakened by the folly of his immigration proposals. There is ample daylight to the right of Bush on the question of Islam and terror, and Sen. McCain could do himself a favor by dropping the pathetic concatenation of modifiers he uses when talking about the enemy -- radical Islamic extremism and the like -- and taking at least a few baby sets toward reality.
It is highly likely that, before the November election, the Jihad will force itself before the public eye again in a dramatic way. Who predicted the explosion of the Cartoon Jihad last year? So I would recommend that the Senator take some time to study the matter, unfiltered by the benighted apologists of academia, much less the subversives of prominent Muslim lobbyist organizations: that he might be ready to pounce on the undoubtedly ham-handed response from Obama or Clinton in the event of another similar explosion. Bring in Andrew Bostom or Paul Sperry, someone outside the academy, for a detailed discussion of the legacy of Jihad; and be ready to throw down the gauntlet against Democratic timidity when the opportunity arises.
Dan's argument that McCain ought to maintain a sotto voce attitude concerning BCRA would work if only (a) the press would never ask him a question about it and (b) he could, at the same time, give a wink and a nod to the conservative/libertarian community indicating that he has gotten their message. I don't think that this will work out because the logistics of such a wink-and-nod arrangement are exceedingly difficult to work out without having McCain simply indicate to the public that he is abandoning his previous position.
And contra Dan, I would actually argue that McCain could do himself a lot of good by denouncing BCRA. He would look unprincipled if he did this during the primary and caucus season while it was far from clear that he would be the Republican nominee. But if he does it now, and risks the wrath of independents, he could more easily portray his change of mind as a principled one. He could also plausibly present it as bowing to reality. BCRA is an abject failure and the Roberts Court has already begun ripping its guts out thanks to the splendid Wisconsin Right to Life decision. By refusing to accept this reality, McCain looks as obstinate as Huckabee does when the latter insists that there remains a reason for him to continue campaigning.
In addition, it would be nice if McCain made himself a standout voice on issues like school choice and free trade. Free trade came in for an awful and entirely undeserved bashing in Obama's speech last night in Madison. It needs a defender and the Republican nominee ought to be that defender. Additionally, McCain needs to present himself as a tax-cutter who will maintain the Bush tax cuts, as Brad has pointed out. Finally, it would be nice if he stopped engaging in demagogic activities like bashing pharmaceuticals. I realize that all of this caters to fiscal and economic conservatives and right-of-center libertarians, but those people are part of the Republican coalition as well. And unlike social conservatives, fiscal and economic conservatives and right-of-center libertarians--other than the Ron Paul variety, which does not speak for the libertarian movement--have not gotten much outreach or attention during this primary and caucus season.
Incidentally, I don't mind if McCain wants to remind us that he was a foot soldier in the Reagan Revolution. But we need to remind him that the field marshal's baton has been found in his knapsack. With that find comes obligations and responsibilities. McCain can no longer depart from significantly important positions in the libertarian-conservative movement and expect the people he proposes to represent to consider him firmly and comfortably ensconced in that movement.
I don't know that it's a big vote-getter but school choice is one issue where McCain ran to Bush's right in 2000 (and that was before we knew Bush would throw the choice provisions in his plan under the bus to make nice with Teddy Kennedy - gosh, we're bring back all the reasons I was down on Bush before 9/11) and it would be great to see him start talking more about it again.
I agree entirely with Ben, and especially note that I strongly agree with points (3) to (6). I note that #4 must be done carefully, because McCain still has supporters in the middle who are worried he is "running to the Religious Right" through appearance at Liberty, etc. I think Latino evangelical crowds would be a good way to outreach without seeming to pander. I think he should steer clear of the big name Religious Right leaders while talking about his faith at opportune times. His story of the Christian Vietnamese guard is a strong story to use in any religious setting.
My other comments are thus:
A) Emphasis is important. McCain is not changing his view on major issues, and that includes McCain-Feingold. He does not believe money is speech and that isn't changing. But he can be quiet about it as Dan suggests and he should avoid filing briefs as others will do that work just as effectively. McCain has and should continue to talk about The War, Ending Pork, Cutting Spending, and Appointing Good Judges.
B) He should respond to Democratic attacks forcefully and NOT rely on the MSM to defend himself. When they take the "100 years" comment out of context, he should call them on it.
C) His demeanor should continue being one of honor, dignity, solemnity in a time of War. It plays into experience and wisdom as his attributes and contrasts with Obama.
D) He should get worked up about government failure. He should talk about earmarks, the War, and spending with passion. He should invoke the failure of Republicans to follow through on the 1994 promises.
E) In appropriate places, he should talk about school choice, personal responsibility, and the American values of individual freedom. These won't be deciding issues of the day, but they reflect his inherent conservatism to come out and be in the forefront.
His vaunted appeal to the middle is going to collapse for lack of foundation if the religious Right (continues to) feel(s) neglected by the Senator. There is no way to help that some independents are so stupid that they think speaking nicely of religious folks is support for a theocracy. Those people should be treated as the Juan McCain loons.
Amen to that!
This is why McCain needs to do everything I listed PRIOR to accepting the nomination.
Yes, and I wasn't quibbling with you.
Thomas, we may be talking past each other. I didn't mention "speaking nicely of religious folks." I'm talking about going to Liberty or going to Bob Jones which are institutions that represent an active religious political activism in the minds of many voters. There are other ways of appealing to religious voters and they would be more effective in this election cycle. He talks about abortion as a human rights issue. That should matter and be continued. But going to the institutions of Religious Right leaders is going to be seen as pandering to groups he has kept at arm's length. One can be a good Christian without getting the stamp of approval from Dobson.
We're not talking past each other; we have different conceptions of the electorate, and different ideas about how elections are won. Good idea to avoid Bob Jones? Probably, for a thousand different reasons. Avoid pleasantries with The Dread Dobson? Stupid. Not all independent voters are moron reflexive libertoid/libertines. Most are morons, but nothing says they have to be stupid the same way, and they aren't.
It's really a dual task he faces--he needs to both mollify the conservative base so that they get themselves to the polls and pull the lever--shower optional. But that's not enough. He also needs to whip up his natural constituency--the centrists--to get the kind of volunteer, grassroots fervor that might give him the volume of votes and enthusiasm that might defeat Obama.
I wholeheartedly endorse Ben's, Thomas's, and Dan's thoughts about the mood of the base. I have believed for a long time that the base, more than anything else, wants a fighter. They want someone who will stand up and unabashedly call the Democrats what they are. They want someone who will not seek to curry favor with the liberal media, but instead speak directly about his conservative beliefs even if it means no more Matthews or Russert invitations. They'd like that guy to be a dyed-in-the-wool conservative, but I'd bet that they would accept a less principled conservative if he was a hatchet man on liberals.
To that end, the best thing McCain can do to engender some love among suspicious conservatives right now is to recognize that the day he clinches the nomination is the day after the media stops being on his side. He can begin to take on the Democrats and the media elite by pointing out their failed policies, or lack of them in Obama's case, and patiently explaining why conservative principles are better. In short, he needs to begin burning every liberal media bridge he has built and start building some with conservative blogosphere. A sit down with NR, RedState, Fox News, Human Events, Hugh Hewitt, Captain Ed, Powerline, Bob Novak, Bill Sammon, Charles Krauthammer, and others would be as well received as his CPAC appearance was, and can only do him good. In each case, he should acknowledge past disagreements while emphasizing areas of commonality. He needs to get the message out to the base that he more one of us than he is one of them, and the NYT isn't going to do that for him.
Robert A. Hahn
The main thing McCain needs to do between now and Nov. 8 is be consistent. The problem with McCain isn't that he doesn't pass some long-term weighted-average test for "conservative." Sure he does. The problem with McCain is that he is the proverbial stream that has an average depth of three feet. You get out in the middle and -- totally unexpectedly -- your next step hits a spot that's fifty feet deep. Surprise!
The reasons that conservatives give for not supporting McCain do not involve his long-term weighted-average "conservative rating." They involve his episodic and totally unpredictable swerves into Democrat Suckup-ism and big-government heavy-handedness. No McCain supporter can credibly claim that John McCain can be counted on to nominate conservative judges or to oppose a total government takeover of health care. That's because no McCain supporter can credibly claim to know what McCain might do next. Who could have predicted that George W. Bush and a GOP Congress would grace us with the largest entitlement program since the Johnson Administration? Do we need another one of those guys in the White House? Anyone who says that he knows for a fact that McCain won't do another one is lying. McCain might do anything.
Saying that McCain is "conservative" or "conservative enough" misses the point. The fear is that the generally-conservative McCain could suddenly get it into his head that the Fairness Doctrine is a good idea, or that the District of Columbia should be a state with two Senators. And why not? He's already signed on to carbon taxes and cap-and-trade schemes; all but called "profit" a dirty word; and demonized the drug companies. He's like a pretty girl who every so often develops a big, pus-filled zit on the end of her nose. In four years, he's sure to have a half-dozen of them.
McCain needs to give conservatives time to slowly draw their hands and arms to their noses in preparation for holding those noses on November 8th. That means not having any more frightening alien liberals suddenly jumping out of his guts between now and then.
Yeah, What he said.
As usual, I bow to Bob. I think the overall theme here from Bob and some of the other comments is that while outreach in some forms is good and we'd like to see movement on some specific narrow issues, at the end of the day what conservatives want most of all is to keep McCain's guns trained on the other side and stop the 'friendly fire' at his own people that has so irritated so many of us the past 8 years.
Didn't Bush promise to do just that during the campaign? Not to threadjack this, but I'm a bit surprised at how many people (mainly talk radio and callers) act as though Bush betrayed them on issues like this. Bush ran as a Compassionate Conservative. He proposed a prescription drug benefit. He promised comprehensive immigration reform. About the only issue where he flipped was on nation building and he can credibly claim that 9/11 changed his view of the costs and benefits. For all of Bush's faults, "moving" to the left isn't one of them.
I expect McCain will be good on his promises too. Despite the concern that he will surprise people with some lefty view, I'm not aware of places where he has flipped that direction. We know which issues McCain is conservative on and which he is moderate on. I don't see a lot of evidence that he switches regularly.
Not to continue a threadjack, but: Adam, I think in both the case of the prescription drug benefit and No Child Left Behind, the Republican base believed that expansions of government were going to come with conservative/free-market reform of two broken systems - in one case, pairing new funding and standards with school choice; in the other, pairing it with a number of significant pro-freedom health care reforms.
In both cases, the freedom got largely negotiated out at the bargaining table, and the government expansion stayed in. What surprised us was that Bush was that much more interested in getting the "win" of getting political credit for a big government expansion/entitlement as opposed to actually holding the line til he could get positive reform.
And none of us really expected steel tariffs.
Then again, frankly, I didn't expect fast-track authority, which is what those tariffs bought.
Bush has flip-flopped at times, but less than the usual politician, and is admirably consistent on his core issues. Ironically, given the present topic, his most egregious flip-flop was signing McCain-Feingold after asserting on the campaign trail (correctly) that it was unconstitutional.
McCain, like Bush, has his core convictions he won't subject to political winds, mainly on national security issues, but he does have rather a longer list than Bush (and more typical of political candidates) of issues on which he has either changed or at least modified his position over time. I think it is probably the case that McCain considers economic issues in general to be negotiable. I trust him to hold his new ground on opposing income tax hikes because I think he can't have missed what happened to George H.W. Bush when he lost the ability to read his own lips, but on other economic issues his best argument remains simply the fact that he's not the Democrats. I think McCain has a general instinct that economic freedom is good, but it's not a well-thought-out philosophy, so it's not surprising that it falls by the wayside when he clamps onto an issue that leads him in the opposite direction.
We're getting further afield here but the other big domestic-policy elephant in the room that was a reason I supported McCain over Bush last time was that I didn't think Bush could pull off entitlement reform, as in fact he did not. It remains to be seen whether McCain can do any better; the Congressional turf is a lot less friendly, and McCain thus far has spent little effort talking about the issue.
Honestly, maybe I'm overly cynical after the past three years, but my own view is that no matter who we ran this cycle, the best we could hope for on the domestic legislative policy front was four years of stalemate.
The original premise of this roundtable was "what can McCain realistically and credibly do between now and then to win over enough of the GOP base" and it seems fairly clear to me from this exchange that he's really not going to effect much change in this regard, nor will he really NEED to.
He's not going to pander or capitulate on any of his so-called "core conservative issues" that some of us are already p-ohed at him for, he's not going to flip or flop any more than he and his handlers deem necessary to keep the demographics that got him this far, and he'll only play as nice as he HAS to with the "right wing" contingents that "most" put his chances at risk in November...seems to me he doesn't really need to do much of anything new or different-those he's already told to go pound will just get in line, or they can go...well, you get the point.
And, frankly, with the still better than even chances he's going to be criss-crossing the country this summer waving at Barry as he goes along, he probably doesn't NEED to change anything...I'm fairly certain the experts and pundits will kick back and trust that Americans won't buy what Obama has to sell...assuming McCain keeps hammering on him about spending and the growth of Government...and of course standing up against our enemies rather than yucking it up with them over an Oprah! mocha latte.