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An Overlooked Potential Benefit of Conservative Distrust for McCain:

John McCain will now almost certainly become the Republican nominee for president. Therefore, we will be hearing more about the longstanding issue of conservative distrust towards him. I think that that distrust has an important upside that has been overlooked: it will make it more difficult for McCain to promote major new expansions of government should he become president.

Many conservatives either supported or at least refused to aggressively oppose the Bush Administration's massive expansion of domestic spending, most notably his prescription drug and education plans. They did so in part because conservatives for a long time felt a sense of affinity with Bush and trusted him. There is very little such trust between conservatives and McCain. It will therefore be much more difficult for him to win conservative support for comparable boondoggles.

That, combined with the restraining influence of divided government, will make it much harder for McCain to enact major new statist policies than it was for Bush during the years when he had a Republican majority in Congress. McCain might even end up emphasizing his anti-spending instincts in order to shore up conservative support.

I don't want to be a pollyanna here. If elected, McCain will almost certainly succeed in enacting some policies that pro-limited government conservatives (to say nothing of libertarians) will find highly objectionable. Some conservative Republicans will be tempted to support McCain's initiatives simply out of party loyalty. That said, I think that the combined impact of conservative distrust and divided government can greatly reduce the potential harm caused by a McCain Administration. It might even result in some positive benefits.

Ronald Reagan once urged us to "trust but verify." When it comes to McCain, a "distrust and verify" approach might be even better.

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