Former Republican Congressman, founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation, and national chairman of the American Conservative Union, Mickey Edwards is the author of Reclaiming Conservatism: How A Great American Political Movement Got Lost- and How It Can Find Its Way Back. In the post below Edwards refutes the claim that John McCain is not a real conservative. Read more posts by Edwards here.
(Please note: I know Romney well, having worked in his gubernatorial campaign and later joining him frequently at Republican fundraising events in Massachusetts. I know McCain, too, having served with him in Congress. I have not, however, endorsed any candidate in this year’s presidential primaries.)
With Mitt Romney out of the race for President, the narrow circle of self-designated “spokesmen” for conservatism will find themselves growing ever more frantic in their desperate search for a candidate who can somehow stop John McCain’s march to the Republican presidential nomination. Mr. McCain’s apostasy, they contend, is that he is not a conservative and, in the words of Mr. Romney, “outside the Republican mainstream.”
Here’s what’s odd about that. Whether one looks to history – the political legacies of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan – or the recent election results, it is McCain who represents both the conservative mainstream (his views are far more like those of conservatism’s founding heroes than Romney’s ever were) and the mainstream of the GOP (as evidenced by exit polls showing that something like 70 percent of Republican primary voters identified themselves as moderate or only “somewhat” conservative, with the hard-core conservatives Karl Rove has designated as the Republican “base” accounting for fewer than one-third of the party’s voters – the tail that, until McCain came long, wagged the dog.
It’s important to look at the charges that McCain is “not a conservative.” It’s true that he voted against President Bush’s tax cut proposals, but McCain has long championed the true conservative position, which is to couple tax cuts with spending cuts. When Ronald Reagan reluctantly went along with a tax increase during his years in the White House, he did so only after having received a promise (later broken) that the Democratic Congress would cut spending, too. No responsible conservative would have done as Bush asked – cutting taxes while launching a multi-billion-dollar new spending program (the war in Iraq). From a conservative standpoint, McCain was right, Bush (and his supporters) wrong.
Self-proclaimed conservative purists also attack McCain for his vote to block drilling in the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge. It was for this affront that Romney labeled McCain as being outside the conservative mainstream. Once again, it was McCain who was true to conservative principles and Romney who was off-base. Barry Goldwater, the founder of the modern conservative movement, devoted an entire lengthy chapter in his book “The Conscience of a Majority” to “Saving the Earth”. Russell Kirk, one of conservatism’s leading scholars, wrote: “the modern spectacle of vanished forests and eroded lands . . . is evidence of what an age without veneration does to itself and its successors.”
Over and over again, John McCain has found himself attacked by self-enthroned “conservative leaders” who have no clue as to what conservatism is really all about. How ironic that Romney’s withdrawal from the presidential contest leaves the nomination to the man who has all along been the only true conservative in the race.