Friday, February 8, 2008

Tom Delay's Day

Yesterday Senator McCain spoke to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in the first of what will be many attempts to mend fences with his party's conservatives.  While some conservatives appreciated his efforts, others used the event to further annunciate their objects to the Arizona Senator.   Most conspicuous among the latter group was Tom Delay, the former representative from Texas.  In an interview with Chris Matthews, Delay highlighted his differences with McCain on issues including gun control, immigration, global warming and campaign finance reform.  When Matthews tried to pin him down and asked him, if faced with the prospect of a Hillary Clinton Presidency, would he continue to withhold his support from Senator McCain, Delay equivocated, saying the he didn't know who would be a more dangerous President

Most people will conclude that Delay was just speaking hyperbolically, he really sees that McCain is closer to his positions than Clinton and he is just speaking this way to get more concessions from McCain before he gives his endorsement.  I feel that it may go deeper than that.  For years, Delay's bread and butter was the the politics of division that tries to pit 51% against the other 49% in all-or-nothing propositions.  It was for this reason that Delay was such an asset to Karl Rove in getting the Bush agenda through Congress.  The election of John McCain would mark a setback for that way of thinking.  John McCain has reached across the isle to build consensus on many issues and has rarely engaged in the type of sectarian debate favored by Delay and his friends.  Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, would serve as a lightning rod for the type of invective Delay has been hurling for years.  With her in the White House, Delay will continue to play his old game, with the hopes of making a great comeback.  So, I believe Tom Delay when he says he doesn't know which candidate is most dangerous to him.

I don't think Delay's view will be shared by rank-and-file conservatives - of any persuasion.  I am not a cultural conservative, but I know many of them, and the one thing I've taken away from my conversations with them is that the issue of abortion overrides all others.  By just about everyone's count, the Supreme Court is one vote away from overturning Roe V. Wade.  While some conservatives point out that McCain has made remarks indicating that he may not nominate someone like Justice Samuel Alito, this shouldn't cause much concern because Alito would not make it through a Democratic Senate anyway.  Only a John Roberts type conservative could get confirmed, and McCain has consistently said that he would put forward nominees like Roberts.  With their long sought after goal so tantalizingly close, I doubt cultural conservatives will turn their backs on McCain.

Meanwhile, I expect that fiscal conservatives will vote with their wallets.  They know that Clinton will raise taxes on them more than McCain ever would, and so they will give their support to McCain.  The only Republicans who really benefit from rebelling against McCain are those who have made partisanship and the heightened anxiety of the "culture war" their calling card.  That is why Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham have been so loud in recent weeks.  While John McCain may not represent the best aspirations of all segments of the Republican Party, he will have an easier time unifying those segments than Tom Delay would have us believe.

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