Alexander's Column

Straight talk about John McCain

Mark Alexander · Mar. 3, 2000

“You ain’t no Ronald Reagan. In your dreams, Senator McCain. In your dreams. Only in your dreams. The man does not have the temperament to be president of the United States.” –Michael Reagan after a heated exchange with John McCain Tuesday.

In the last week, some “astute” political observers have characterized John McCain’s assault on high profile core Republicans as a “divide and conquer” strategy. But one would expect such a strategy would have a desirable end – victory – as its objective. As best we can discern, however, McCain’s actions in the presidential primary thus far, constitute little more than “slash and burn.”

Mr. McCain deserves our respect for his military service 30 years ago, and his considerable sacrifice as a POW. His political record, after almost two decades in the Senate, is reasonably conservative though he has not authored many exceptional pieces of legislation or provided much “reform” leadership while in Congress.

One must admire, however, that McCain is his own man, not a “party an,” and he is certainly motivated from a place of deep patriotic respect and concern for our nation.

There are a few decorated war veterans associated with The Federalist Editorial Board, and we take no pleasure in being critical of a man who, at one time, suffered greatly because of his willingness to join the ranks of other young men fighting in Vietnam. That fact alone certainly sets McCain apart from the current Commander-in-Chief, not to mention the other presidential contenders.

This notwithstanding, it is time for some straight talk about Mr. McCain’s parricide express.

“Here’s some straight talk. I’m a proud Reagan Republican,” says McCain in ads running in California. We know Mr. McCain is proud but is he a straight talkin’ “Reagan Republican”? Like McCain, Ronald Reagan was not an “establishment candidate,” and he did attract a broad electorate – but the similarity ends there.

Unlike Reagan, McCain has cast out the economic conservatives and opted for populist Beltway class warfare rhetoric and targeted tax cuts. Consequently, he has placed a gauntlet between his campaign and the majority of stalwart Reagan Republicans – those who advocate for economic liberty, for individual responsibility, for limited government, for Second Amendment rights, for the unborn. Indeed, these issues rarely occupy a high profile in McCain’s rhetoric. It is not that he is opposed to these core conservative principles, but he has certainly not made them a centerpiece of his campaign.

McCain’s route in South Carolina was a test of his character, a test of his temperance and a test of his political affiliation. He failed on all three counts. He assailed those supporting George Bush as un-American, displayed no modicum of temperance and humility in defeat, and made a Faustian deal with the Demos which is now the centerpiece of his campaign.

National Review asks of McCain’s comments after his defeat in South Carolina, “What does McCain mean by ‘political intolerance’ and ‘political tactics of division and slander’ that ‘shame our faith, our party, and our country’? It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that he means something like ‘active opposition to John McCain’.”

McCain’s attack on right coast evangelical Christians was calculated to win him some much-needed delegates on the left coast. But it was reckless. Trying to backpedal, McCain said, “We want the Christian Right.” That is “Christian Right” as the Brokaw/Rather/Jennings cartel might refer to them. Bill Clinton quickly came to McCain’s defense, saying that he has held the “same views about the religious right for years.”

McCain says he is rebuilding the “Reagan majority,” but in Virginia, he told Bush supporters, “Hasta la vista, baby.”

While we believe John McCain has a strong conservative foundation, he has yet to build on that foundation. He says he is a “maverick” in the mold of Ronald Reagan, but then allows his political handlers to burn bridges that were his only conduits the Reagan conservatives.

All this having been said, if Mr. McCain is the nominee, one might hope, for the public and private good, that he begins to exercise some degree of temperance – dropping the hyperbolic and demagogic ranting – and that he would be emboldened to openly embrace and defend the Reagan conservatism he claims as his own, before inviting its adherents to join his campaign.