- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 31, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In the wake of his victory in Florida, John McCain is emerging as the frontrunner to win the Republican nomination, which is understandably worrisome to conservatives. Mr. McCain’s positions don’t exactly spell c-o-n-s-e-r-v-a-t-i-v-e.

Remember McCain-Feingold, amnesty for illegal aliens, Democratic filibusters against judicial nominees, his embrace of no-growth environmentalist positions on global warming and oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and his opposition to President Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts?

Yet despite these and other liberal parts of his record — a record that makes him anathema to many of the Reagan conservatives who dominate the Republican Party — the Arizona senator leads the Republican field in the popular vote and the number of delegates won. He also holds huge leads in the polls over the No. 2 Republican, Mitt Romney, in major “Super Tuesday” states such as California, New York and New Jersey, which vote just five days from now.

Although some want to depict Mr. McCain’s victories in Florida and South Carolina as repudiations of conservatism, he did everything possible to portray himself as a conservative who had been fighting for limited government and a strong national defense since he was first elected to Congress in 1982 — during President Reagan’s first term. On immigration, Mr. McCain downplayed his support of amnesty by emphasizing the need to prevent illegal immigration through tougher controls on the border and sanctions against employers who hire illegals. Mr. McCain spoke of the need to extend the Bush tax cuts and his longstanding campaign against porkbarrel spending. He talked about his pro-life votes in Congress. And he did something that would have been considered political suicide for any serious politician only five or six months ago: criticizing Mr. Romney for having been insufficiently supportive of the war in Iraq. Indeed, Mr. McCain used the success of the Iraq troop “surge” (and his own leadership role in advocating it) to make the case that he is best suited to lead the country in fighting Islamist terror.

Although we have taken issue with Mr. McCain’s stance on immigration and numerous other issues (and will continue to do so), the senator’s work in putting forward the case for the surge was superb. On his campaign Web site, the senator excerpted an editorial of ours titled “McCain’s Churchillian Address,” praising a speech he delivered in April at Virginia Military Institute calling for a new strategy in Iraq — the very one that Gen. David Petraeus has implemented so superbly. But Mr. McCain and his supporters are deluding themselves if they think that the senator would be able to run and win in the general election solely on the basis of Iraq or by ignoring conservatives who have been an integral part of the Reagan coalition dating back to 1980.



Mr. McCain needs to conduct some serious outreach to conservatives — right away. His decision to speak at next week’s Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, which he skipped last year, is a good start.

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