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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.

Tareeq (www):
Ilya, how can McCain possibly win when a major portion of his party base (small government conservatives, lowercase libertarians) thinks of him in this fashion?

You're going to distrust the next president. Good luck with the verification.
2.6.2008 1:04am
Ilya Somin:
Ilya, how can McCain possibly win when a major portion of his party base (small government conservatives, lowercase libertarians) thinks of him in this fashion?

If he wins (and the polls say he has at least some chance) it will be because that base is far more hostile to Hillary Clinton and the Democrats.
2.6.2008 1:07am
Perseus (mail):
Why should McCain care much if he doesn't have the support of conservatives if he gets elected? There likely won't be enough of them around in Congress to do much to stop him from pulling a Schwarzenegger and govern with the Democrats.
2.6.2008 1:18am
Nessuno:
Ilya, you make a serious mistake in assuming that McCain will rely on the support of Republicans in Congress to get his initiatives passed.

His behavior in the Senate suggests, instead, he will peal off a number liberal-ish (in the Senate) and moderate Republicans and unite with a solid chunk of Democrats. This is what concerns conservative Republicans so much. He feels no allegiance to them, and has not relied on them in the past. So why would he look to work with them in the future?

With this in mind, the best thing that could happen for conservatives is for the Democrats to foam at the mouth over the Iraq war and refuse to deal with McCain on anything, pushing McCain to the right. I doubt that will happen, at least for a while.
2.6.2008 1:25am
wuzzagrunt (mail):
It's not going to be pretty for small-government conservatives and libertarians. McCain will be dishing out some harsh payback if he gains the Whitehouse without the support of conservatives. Much of what he's done for the last 8 years (the stuff that annoys conservatives) appears to be the result of an extended hissy fit over that Gomer (GW) beating him in the Y2K primaries. McCain is too Nixonesque for my comfort. I'll betcha he's even got an "enemies list". Hillary would be worse--but just barely.

Obama is way too liberal--and frighteningly underqualified--but much more of a statesman than Hillary or John McCain. Obama would probably govern from closer to the center than his rhetoric (what few specifics there are) would suggest. Kinda like Bill Clinton did, but without making you feel like you need a shower after watching him speak.

I'm laying in a 4 year supply of Maalox.
2.6.2008 1:45am
Thomas_Holsinger:
I sort of expect McCain to choose Huckabee as his running mate. It would be a perfect example of hubris.
2.6.2008 1:47am
tvk:
I'm with Perseus. What makes you think that McCain needs conservatives to pass legislation or confirm people? The Senator McCain has always been the token Republican to provide Democrats cover to do something; a President McCain will only multiply that effect.

Now, McCain is not as liberal as many people assume, especially on spending. But the fact that he may not be inclined to spend is very different from whether he'll be able to get the votes to do so.
2.6.2008 2:05am
Oren:
There likely won't be enough of them around in Congress to do much to stop him from pulling a Schwarzenegger and govern with the Democrats.
If McCain ends being half as good at president than Arnold is as governor then the USA will be ahead by a lot. Seriously, Arnold has been the only competent executive in California since forever.
2.6.2008 2:30am
Ak:
I don't know. I think the examples given -- Medicare part D and NCLB -- are really not apt. Those are the things you DON'T have to worry about from McCain, massive entitlement expansions.

The biggest issue with him is that there is no doubt a President McCain will get an amnesty bill passed that will permanently open the floodgates to a massive Mexican migration. And as they will become citizens of a voting bloc that politicians already are terrified to cross, we will spend the next 20 years importing millions of poorly educated people from a third world country who will soon be "entitled" to free health care and social security. Which, ironically, has far more problematic fiscal consequences than any of the things he takes anti-spending stances on.

Other than that, my concerns with him mostly lie in his personality rather than policies - he does seem rather fixated on revenge and his hairpin temper is a concern.
2.6.2008 3:10am
Jagermeister:

Seriously, Arnold has been the only competent executive in California since forever.
How quicly we forget George Deukmejian.
2.6.2008 3:39am
Ilya Somin:
Ilya, you make a serious mistake in assuming that McCain will rely on the support of Republicans in Congress to get his initiatives passed.

The Democrats will be reluctant to give legislative sucesses to a Republican president. So McCain would have to rely on the Republicans at least to a large extent.
2.6.2008 3:48am
David M. Nieporent (www):
His behavior in the Senate suggests, instead, he will peal off a number liberal-ish (in the Senate) and moderate Republicans and unite with a solid chunk of Democrats. This is what concerns conservative Republicans so much. He feels no allegiance to them, and has not relied on them in the past. So why would he look to work with them in the future?
What is this delusion that conservative Republicans have that McCain isn't one? His "behavior in the Senate" is to vote solidly conservative.
2.6.2008 4:43am
pireader (mail):
David Nieporent - What is this delusion that conservative Republicans have that McCain isn't one? His "behavior in the Senate" is to vote solidly conservative.

I suspect their real problem is the trend in McCain's voting record over his years in the Senate. In 1987-88, he voted to the right of 2/3's of the Senate's Republicans. In the last Congress (2005-06), he voted to the left of 2/3's of them.

Interestingly, that's not because McCain's voting shifted left ... in fact, he shifted modestly right. But the population of Senate Republicans turned over, and the new guys vote substantially further to the right (on average).

In short, the bar for being a "true" conservative keeps going higher; and McCain hasn't kept up. Of course, if he's not a "true" conservative, then the Senate has less than 40 of them. So the "true" conservatives are going to lose a hella lot of votes, regardless of who's President.

[My source for all this is Poole and Rosenthal's analysis of Congressional voting records.]
2.6.2008 5:31am
RainerK:
None of the candidates were palatable to me and the ones that are left in the race are even less palatable.
Having said that, divided government is probably the best this Libertarian can get. I just hope that the new President is not going to embark on any new military adventures in foreign lands. I am deeply worried how long the US economy will be able to withstand this reckless deficit spending before it folds, just like the former Soviet Union did.
2.6.2008 6:01am
TokyoTom (mail):
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.

Ilya, I consider it very unlikely that McCain will win, as voters are still inclined to punish Republicans for having governed so spectacularly poorly - in no small part due to the lack of any effective partisan check after Republican strategies allowed the party to capture Congress as well as the Presidency.

Instead, we are likely to see Dems control both the White House and Congress. All that stands in the way of ballooning pork is a bad economy, lack of appetite by foreign investors, likely squabbles between Democratic factions, and an unwillingness by Dems to expand the "Long War" to another front. Plus, if Hillary is elected, we'll be treated to at least four years of reflexive vitriol that may serve a check. But we can expect some payback from the Dems, who will be unlikely to want to police themselves (so no new independent prosecutor statute, alas).

But on the bright side, there's always hope that the Supremes will decide to start hacking back on the ridiculously expanded Commerce Clause.
2.6.2008 6:37am
Arkady:

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.


Here's one possible area, per Matt Yglesias:


One striking fact about American society...is that our political culture is shot through with a strain of liberal individualism that tends to deeply effect politicians from both sides of the country's ideological divide. McCain, though, doesn't seem to share it. Instead, he appears to regard the self-sacrifice of the military man not as admirable because it helps protect and sustain a liberal society at home, but because it's actually preferable to have people's lives organized around regimentation, comformity, and sacrifice. Under the circumstances, what normal people might view as the downsides of war are in fact benefits, and the militarization of the home front is desirable as well.
2.6.2008 7:29am
sashal (mail):
did you see the results of the voting?
Most self identified conservatives voted for Romney, and he lost.
What does it tell you, there are not that many cons around, this country is truly liberal, the influence of Rush at al is greatly exaggerated.
GOP is very good at propaganda and election tactics, that is how they won elections, but in reality GOP should not be supported by the majority of Americans.
That is the party of torture,fear, redistribution of wealth from the middle class to upper class, party which does not give a s* if one has no medical help and no money to pay, lots of Americans are one bad accident or decease from going bankrupt, etc, etc,.
Get ready for liberals to rule for the next few years at least....
2.6.2008 7:37am
Temp Guest (mail):
Every post above is based on the conclusion that McCain has won the Republican Party's nomination for president. As of yet he hasn't. Furthermore, in most of yesterday's state primaries McCain got a plurality -- not a majority -- of the vote. Huckabee is acting as a spoiler, splitting the conservative vote and ensuring McCain victories. Whether Huckabee's behavior is motivated more by his hostile prejudice towards Romney or more by a cynical desire to broker a significant role at the Republican convention is still unclear. The Republican nomination is still up for grabs. The worst possible Republican ticket would be McCain/Huckabee. This may be the way things are trending but "It's not over till it's over".
2.6.2008 8:22am
davod (mail):
"If McCain ends being half as good at president than Arnold is as governor then the USA will be ahead by a lot. Seriously, Arnold has been the only competent executive in California since forever."

Arnold has continued the spending binge of the Democrats. With his help they have once again bankrupted the state. Arnold is so far out of it that the Democratic majority (With, I imagine, Republican help.) voted down his flagship healthcare program as to exepensive.
2.6.2008 8:48am
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Sachal, if you're not a parody, I'm sorry. I just have to compliment you on the subtle use of the "etc." at the end of your rant. It really tied the whole "Look at me I'm a whiny liberal forum troll with bad grammar spouting the same tired catchphrases" theme together.

Well done.
2.6.2008 9:31am
Adeez (mail):
I've been saying it for years now: this is further proof that labels are meaningless.

Unlike some of my counterparts (who blindly label anything/person they deem "liberal" as evil or stupid, w/o any clear explication of what the term actually means), I've always been careful to lay off attacking Conservatism. Although it (whatever it is) is a political philosophy with which I disagree, at least it's A philosophy. Something I could respectfully disagree with.

But Rush, Ann, the neocons, et al. have changed the game, to the detriment of all Republicans. Ya know how people love to criticize certain Islamic groups for not publicly and loudly disavowing terrorism? Well, the principled conservatives should've denounced the authoritarian, greedy, corporatist, selfish, fear-mongering, hate-mongering, etc. policies of this admin. Sure, some did. But clearly not enough.

Now people naturally assume that the authoritarian governance that the country is railing against is actual conservatism. The term is now dead.
2.6.2008 9:44am
Waldensian (mail):

The Republican nomination is still up for grabs.

Right.
2.6.2008 9:56am
OK lawyer (mail):
True, conservatism, as I have always believed it is in fact dead. I defined it (right or wrong it was/is my definition)as the belief of accountability and self reliance. One did not need, or want, the government to help them, b/c they did it themselves. they relied upon the family, friends, but most of all, themselves.

The people don't want that anymore. We want the government to take care of us. We have become a nation of entitlement needy zombies. look at the massive turnout for Democratic primaries and what the two major candidates are preaching. The true conservatives that wanted the government out of our lives are losing, or have lost. Why? People want the government in their lives.
2.6.2008 10:03am
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
The biggest issue with him is that there is no doubt a President McCain will get an amnesty bill passed that will permanently open the floodgates to a massive Mexican migration.


I doubt it, McCain wasn't able to get his immigration bill through the Senate last time (and that one wasn't even an "amnesty" bill) due to overwhelming public opposition. Neither Reid nor Pelosi have any appetite for revisiting immigration reform as it's likely that any legislation that passes either House could be enough to cost them control during the mid-term elections.
2.6.2008 10:05am
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):

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.


Really now, name ten.
2.6.2008 10:05am
MDJD2B (mail):

Seriously, Arnold has been the only competent executive in California since forever.

Umm... Reagan? Dukmejian (who, for lagniappe, is a graduate of the law school that I attend-- St. John's)? Pat (NOT Jerry) Brown (a liberal, but certainly competent?

If you don't like the way California is governed, you should see the crew we've had here in NY.
2.6.2008 10:06am
sashal (mail):
Daniel Chapman.
McCain's victory has proven
that the mainstream GOP voter is sick of the clowns on the extreme right. All of your talk about how the Democrats and moderate Republicans are out of the mainstream are proven a lie. Nobody wants your hate on everything agenda. You right-wingers are finding yourselves where you belong -- on the margins. Now are you going to do a little introspection and examine your behavior over the last 8 years? I don't think so.



BTW. Hate talk radio as embodied by Rush, Dobson, Hewitt, etc. has proven itself irrelevant. The curtain has been pulled and Oz has been revealed.

Suck. It. Up.

I guess Rush is going to have to go on a Viagra/Oxycontin fueled hooker binge down in the Dominican Republic to recover from this disaster.
2.6.2008 10:08am
sashal (mail):
OK lawyer.
As Digby said a long time ago, "conservatism cannot fail, it can only be failed." . . . "you are a conservative until 'conservatives' decide you are not." Conservatism is tribe, not a philosophy.

Recall die-hard socialists and communists. What are they saying:
"true socialism was never tried before therefore it never failed"


See what I am trying to say here?


the belief of accountability and self reliance. One did not need, or want, the government to help them, b/c they did it themselves. they relied upon the family, friends, but most of all, themselves.-you said.
This are an admirable personal human qualities and do not belong to any certain philosophical views.
2.6.2008 10:18am
Daniel Chapman (mail):
Blah blah blah... conservatism is dead... blah blah blah... republicans are evil... blah blah agenda of hate... etc etc...
2.6.2008 10:25am
Orielbean (mail):
Sasha, I'm a liberal for any measurement purposes and I think you sound hysterical. You are not clever except in the fifth grade sense. This is a forum for discussion, not this yelling and ranting. I'm feeding the troll, but it doesn't matter. Neither party has clean hands here. Both groups use their extreme wings and media outlets to say what the safe middle can't say.

I think it's safe to say that self-identified conservatives on this forum were less than ecstatic about Bush's poorly-implemented domestic and foreign policies over the last 8 years. The Democrats failed because we put up the idiot Kerry as a legit candidate. That guy has "fail" written all over him, and he can't even be as fake as Romney. We get what we deserve up here in Mass.

McCain was trounced and embarassed by Bush in the first election; this resurgence has a little to do with identifying the only GOP member to actually take a vocal position against Bush, but it's more to do with the goofy slate of GOP candidates. Romney is a robot, Huckabee is cornpone, and the rest speak for themselves.
2.6.2008 10:32am
Kent G. Budge (mail) (www):

Seriously, Arnold has been the only competent executive in California since forever.


If it's executive competence you're looking for, then your candidate is already out of the race. Whether he admits it yet or not.
2.6.2008 11:14am
Bretzky (mail):
There's another reason why small government conservatives don't have to worry about a massive expansion of federal programs under McCain: because he himself is against such a thing. McCain has been one of the few Republicans in Congress who has actually attempted to halt the big government trip that the Republicans have been on for the past seven years under Bush. If McCain is elected with a Democratic Congress, he's more likely going to be fighting against their expansionist policies than battling his own party to implement his own.
2.6.2008 11:38am
The General:
If McCain has to spend the entire general election convincing Republicans to vote for him, then he's in big trouble (e.g. Bob Dole 1996.)
2.6.2008 12:24pm
Al Fin (mail) (www):
1. McCain is brittle, vengeful, and apt to "go off" at any time for any reason.

2. Republican conservatives are the heart and soul of the party--they work and bleed to get out the vote. Without them, McCain is a rain-soaked piece of burnt toast.

3. McCain is unelectable. His friends in the media will turn on him with the long knives in the general election.

4. McCain's "conservative voting" has been on inconsequential matters. On big matters he stands alongside Kennedy, Feingold, and the rest of his best friends. You let statistics fool you too often.

5. As a libertarian who has voted Republican only once in my life, "Amnesty" McCain has all the appeal of a rotting fish.
2.6.2008 2:05pm
michael (mail) (www):
Soliloquy, soliloquy, wherefore art thou? We have been told that McCain-Feingold is like, for a Muslim, a picture of Mohammed with a turban on his head; so we rant and rave. In my business, medicine, the pharmaceutical reps come around and can't says anything except what is is related to an FDA indication for their product. An indication derives from a particularly large clinical experiment but there are many others that are useful. Free commercial speech would allow them to be discussed but the be all and end all of free speech ranting has already been scripted (conservatively of course). The bracero was culturally allowed though ended administratively by Union pressure on Democrats; but now it must be 'brown spot out of the social fabric' no matter how much a fantasy it sounds. This is even though really if you take Sashal's coments re: self and family reliance for conservatism, the illegal immigrants may fit it best in the population.
2.6.2008 4:46pm
c.gray (mail):

I just hope that the new President is not going to embark on any new military adventures in foreign lands.


Pretty forlorn hope.

Every President elected since at least 1932 has ordered military intervention, somewhere, at least once. Even the sainted Jimmy Carter had the ill-fated Iran Hostage rescue attempt.

The biggest toy POTUS has is the US Armed Forces. Expecting him (or her) not to play with it is a triumph of hope over experience.
2.7.2008 4:46pm
c.gray (mail):

Neither Reid nor Pelosi have any appetite for revisiting immigration reform as it's likely that any legislation that passes either House could be enough to cost them control during the mid-term elections.


I'm not so sure.

Both party establishments have a substantial appetite for immigration "reform" for different reasons. Congressional Republican want to make the thousands of businessmen who rely on a steady supply of cheap immigrant labor happy. Democratic politicians see an endless stream of low wage, working class, ethnic voters that will break 2-1 or better for their party on election day.
2.7.2008 5:04pm
dweeb:
The problem with the divided government theory is that big government leftists in Congress are far better at recognizing when their own interests are served, whereas the other side of the aisle will swallow anything with the GOP brand label. Democrats will work with McCain whenever he tries to expand government, and Republicans will go along just because he has an "R" after his name. Congressional Republicans will reflexively oppose a Democrat, but roll over and wag their tales if they smell an elephant (or a RINO) in the White House.
2.7.2008 8:16pm
Seerak (mail):
sashal writes (in non-bolded italics):

the belief of accountability and self reliance. One did not need, or want, the government to help them, b/c they did it themselves. they relied upon the family, friends, but most of all, themselves.-you said.
This are an admirable personal human qualities and do not belong to any certain philosophical views.


On the contrary, those qualities do indeed logically stem from a specific philosophical view -- the liberal view of moral individualism, properly known as "egoism", which came close to full actualization in the Enlightenment. It upholds the idea that the individual retains the final moral right and responsibility for his own life and the choices he makes -- as opposed to the primitive idea that it is something "other" that retains it -- such as a collective ("society", tribe, race, class) or supernatural being (God, Gaia).

Nowadays, the only "all in" advocates of that position are Objectivists (i.e. Ayn Rand admirers), which should tell you how far away from Yglesias' "streak of liberal individualism" the mainstream of American society has drifted since its founding.
2.8.2008 8:06pm