- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Isn’t it ironic that Republican moderates are harshly criticizing Republican conservatives for being harshly critical of Republican presidential front-runner John McCain?

What mortal sins have conservative McCain critics committed? Oh, they’ve stuck to their conservative principles, fighting for the values they believe in and refusing, prematurely, to surrender. What good would they be if they so readily threw in the towel of defeat?

“Enlightened” moderates are shocked at conservatives, tagging them as uncompromising extremists who represent the very fringe of the GOP.

John Dilulio, a principal architect of President Bush’s arguably nonconservative, faith-based initiative, is one making these arguments.

Writing for the Weekly Standard, Dilulio says that only 3.6 percent of Republicans identify themselves as “very conservative.” Is he making the unwarranted leap of implying that Mr. McCain’s critics come from this 3.6 percent fringe and that mainstream conservatives have no problem with Mr. McCain?

If so, and with due respect to Mr. Dilulio, I emphatically reject that only 3.6 percent of Republicans have great difficulty swallowing Mr. McCain — ideologically and personally. Mr. McCain isn’t winning a majority of Republicans, much less conservative Republicans, and is relying heavily on Democrat crossovers and independents, not to mention a little help from his friends Mike Huckabee and the mainstream media.

It’s easy for moderates to argue that critics of moderates are extreme. That’s what moderates always say. They have been complaining about conservatism since I was wearing a “Goldwater for President” T-shirt.

They’ve said for years the only way Republicans can win elections is to move to the center. Their opinion is not based on convincing data but wishful thinking. History is not their friend. Republicans win big with conservative ideas, provided they have inspiring candidates. Moderate ideas dilute the message and deflate the movement, zapping it of its verve and enthusiasm.

I have read the reasonable arguments of my friend Bill Bennett and others disputing that John McCain is a liberal. They argue he is a conservative with some liberal positions and that, in any event, he’s far more conservative than Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

Fair enough, though the McCain critics grossly underemphasize the differences and Mr. McCain’s untrustworthiness. For the record, I can’t see myself ever voting for either Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Obama, two unreconstructed socialists who are soft on defense and enemies of the unborn. But hold your horses. We’re not there yet.

We’re in the primary season, and there’s nothing wrong with all sides advocating their respective positions. If conservatives can’t hold John McCain accountable now for all the apostasies he committed with utter delight amid mainstream-media adulation, what chance will we have of doing so later?

The idea that our party can’t recover from vigorous debate during the primaries is unserious, to wit: Reagan vs. Ford. In the meantime, rumors of the death of mainstream conservatism are greatly exaggerated.

Mr. McCain’s relative success is not a sign of the end of Reagan conservatism as a dominant political force. It’s just temporarily dormant, the victim of a confluence of factors, waiting to be re-ignited.

We have had a weak Republican presidential field, though I think some of the candidates ultimately proved themselves to be quite inspiring. Mr. McCain has slipped in largely by default, like John Kerry in 2004.

Another factor is that Republicans have been in control of the executive branch for seven years. Though Democrats have recaptured Congress, they still haven’t been able to accomplish many of their legislative initiatives, including obstructing funding for the Iraq war. Even their reprehensible character assassination of President Bush has lost steam since the surge began yielding fruit.

Nothing unites conservatives like Democrats in power and working their mischief, or out of power and maliciously but effectively obstructing good government — excuse the liberal-sounding oxymoron.

And then there’s the war, which originally united conservatives but admittedly has led to the ascendancy of the neoconservative influence with its willingness to accept all kinds of economic and social liberalism. I believe that’s unnecessary. All three stools — and more — of mainstream conservatism can thrive simultaneously. Nevertheless, these factors and others have coalesced to dampen, temporarily, the fires and energy of conservatism.

Sometimes conservatives become more unified out of power. Of course that doesn’t mean we should allow Democrats to regain the White House, either because we would unite while out of power or because we are seriously disappointed about the prospect of John McCain as our candidate.

But would the critics of Mr. McCain’s critics please quit trying to marginalize mainstream conservatives and redefine mainstream conservatism? Just admit your guy is not that conservative and let us hold his feet to the fire, especially since his success so far will give him all the more temptation to pander to liberals. You’re the ones who need to chill out.

David Limbaugh is a nationally syndicated columnist, lawyer and author. His most recent book is “Bankrupt: The Intellectual and Moral Bankruptcy of Today’s Democratic Party” (Regnery).


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