Watch CBSN Live

Column: McCain A Conservative, No Matter What Rush Says

This story was written by Ryan Frederick, Iowa State Daily

Who knew the Republicans could nominate a candidate for the highest office in the land who would be booed by the Conservative Political Action Conference, turned on by Focus on the Family, and denounced by none other than Rush Limbaugh? Indeed, Focus on the Family's effusive leader James Dobson was quoted as saying, "I am convinced Senator McCain is not a conservative."

Rewind eight years.

The 54-year-old governor of Texas had just become the Republican nominee for president, and conservatives across the country were practically falling over each other to endorse him. With a Republican majority in the House of Representatives and a nearly even split in the Senate, things were looking up for the conservative agenda. The mid-term elections of 2002 only advanced the hopes of conservatives across the country, a trend which continued through the general election of 2004, which ended in a virtual landslide for congressional Republicans. In the midst of this came the appointment of John Roberts to the high court, giving all three branches of government a decidedly rightward lean.

Then nothing.

The conservative agenda totally stalled in pretty grand style. There was to be no ban on gay marriage, no massive reining in of Roe v. Wade, not so much as a feigned attempt to cut spending. While the first two undoubtedly distress social conservatives, the latter proved to be the most disastrous. The new conservative majority found itself, despite the protestations of many veterans who'd been around since Reagan - including McCain - cutting taxes without cutting spending. Federal spending then proceeded to balloon by nearly 19%, a rate unparalleled in recent presidencies. The deficit quickly sped past $400 billion. Some conservatives.

So, even if it were the case that Senator McCain is not a true conservative, it apparently would matter little. This is, perhaps, what so disconcerted Republican voters with the same old conservative rhetoric: It has always, upon election, failed to bear any fruit whatsoever.

That, however, is not the case to begin with. Senator McCain's voting record - which ought to be judged to be the truest test of any candidates' political leanings and issue perceptions - is impeccably conservative.

Indeed, he voted against the Bush tax cuts that created the deficit monster, citing their fiscal irresponsibility. On social issues the senator's record is unabashedly rightist, either expressly voting in favor of bills such as the Partial Birth Abortion Ban in 2003; or opposing bills that violate conservatism in principle, such as his opposition to the Same Sex Marriage Resolution on the grounds that the issue is not a federal one.

In many ways, it seems, Senator McCain is in fact more conservative than the Republican majority of which he was a part all those years.

In fact, a survey of senators in 2006 found John McCain to be farther to the right than conservative poster boys Ted Stevens, Dick Lugar and John Warner.

So, in short, it must be asked: Has John McCain abandoned conservatives, or have conservatives abandoned John McCain? McCain's voting record hasn't really changed all that much since the heady days of the Reagan Revolution.

It's a safe bet to say that the conservative train left the station - whether it was over tax cuts, Guantanamo Bay, immigration or some other issue - without McCain.

This apparently is also true for vast swaths of the Republican Party, which seemed quite willing to pass up the ordained evangelical candidate - Mike Huckabee - and big business's darling - Mitt Romney - for the fourth-term senior senator from Arizona. In fact, McCain's polling numbers with Republicans currently rival thoe of George Bush at this same point in the 2000 electoral season. Perhaps Limbaugh and Dobson are in for a rather rude wakeup call from the real-world rank and file of conservative America.

Republicans are, however slowly, converging behind Senator McCain, and rightly so. Of all the possible choices back in January, McCain was perhaps the most well-equipped to play to any dissatisfied centrist Democrats that emerge from the Pyrrhic bloodbath consuming their nominating process. A recent Gallup poll shows 28% of Hillary Clinton's backing prepared to support McCain in the event that Hillary doesn't become the Democratic nominee. The same holds true for nearly one fifth of current Obama supporters.

Republicans across the country have made their choice and have, so far as the polls can tell us, chosen well, despite what some of their resident demagogues might say. It remains to be seen, however, whether the so-called Silent Majority will stick with its candidate, or be swayed by screaming heads who've proven time and again that they are at the very fringe of both the Republican Party and reality.

Ready or not, America: here comes John McCain and the new, Bush-less, conservatives.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.