Former Congressman J.D. Hayworth (R-Arizona) is preparing to run against Senator John McCain for the U.S. Senate in this year’s Republican primary in Arizona. Some on the right, such as Glenn Beck, don’t agree with the decision of Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to campaign for McCain in Arizona.
Conservative angst over what Sarah Palin does or doesn’t do in Arizona does little good. Palin will go there out of a sense of personal loyalty to a man who brought her to national attention. Personal loyalty can run deeper than political ideology. And while personal loyalty can be to a fault, leadership is impossible without it.
The question isn’t: “What should Sarah do?” The question is: “What should conservatives do?” Whether it’s the tea party movement or the March for Life, conservatives can move from the grassroots, and the smart conservative move is for conservatives to support J.D. Hayworth.
Here are are eight reasons why:
Reason #1: It could work.
With Arizona voters, John McCain has a real problem on his hands: a lack of popularity. Super Tuesday 2008 knocked Romney out of the primaries and saw McCain’s big wins in California and New York, but the untold story may have been Arizona. McCain won Arizona’s primary, but with only 47% of the vote. Republicans across the country were willing to resign themselves to McCain to avoid a prolonged primary process, yet when the votes were counted in his home state, the majority of Arizona primary voters had voted against McCain. There’s a strong possibility they could do so again.
Reason #2: Hayworth is a plausible senator.
One big objection to a Hayworth insurgent win is what message this sends to moderates. The best message may be to run in districts where you suit the district’s ideology. If a religious conservative runs for office in Maine they would get shellacked. Party bosses don’t cry in their imported wines about the message it sends to religious conservative activists about their place in the GOP.
Hayworth isn’t running in Rhode Island; he’s running in Arizona. It’s true Hayworth’s record is unabashedly conservative. The American Conservative Union gave him a 97.50% ACU rating, which is only half a percent more than the state’s other senator, Jon Kyl, who has a 96.96% ACU rating. Kyl beat his last opponent by 10 points in a Democratic year.
A gregarious ex-sportscaster, Hayworth is sharp, eloquent, charismatic, and quick-witted. These traits will be endearing to Arizonans and make him a strong candidate in the fall.
Reason #3: Conservatives don’t owe John McCain anything.
McCain has given conservatives few favors in the last ten years, and even bringing Sarah Palin onto the national stage wasn’t that big a favor. Palin’s charisma and political talents would have brought her to the national spotlight eventually. Running in her own right, as Mike Huckabee and Mitt Romney did, she would have been able to introduce herself to the American people on her terms and develop her own policy ideas. Palin saved McCain’s campaign from losing worse. (McCain had only a single-digit lead in Alaska prior to Palin being chosen and could have lost yet another state that hadn’t gone Democratic since 1964.)
Many on the right point to McCain’s 81% American Conservative Union rating as proof that he’s not that bad, but the lifetime rating is misleading. Through 1996, McCain had an 88% conservative voting record. Since 1996, McCain only had one year with an ACU rating greater than 80% (2001, when he had 81%), and four years he has voted less than 70% conservative.
McCain spent the first part of this decade playing media favorite by frustrating the aims of the Bush administration and backing amnesty and cap and trade. Sometimes he failed, as he did with opposing the Bush tax cuts. Other times he succeeded, as he did with his efforts to stop drilling in ANWR. We can be grateful that, due to the poor economy, gas prices are beneath their $4.00 + a gallon highs from two years ago. But the price of gas would be far lower if McCain hadn’t been a cheerleader against using America’s resources. His pandering to the far left on energy is taking money out of the wallets of average Arizonans, and voters should respond by making him feel their pain.
Reason #4: Life isn’t Starship Troopers.
Some Republicans will protest, “How could we not owe McCain something?” He was a war hero, spending five years as a POW. Certainly, McCain’s military service entitles him to all the benefits the government promised him and the thanks of his countrymen. Show me the paperwork guaranteeing McCain at least five terms in the U.S. Senate for serving in the military, and I’ll drop my support for Hayworth.
You won’t find it. This isn’t Robert Heinlein’s sci-fi classic, where “the franchise is limited only to discharged veterans” along with the ability to hold political office.
Most Republicans who argue that military service trumps all are inconsistent. Conservatives didn’t run to embrace anti-war Lt. Col. Paul Hackett, nor did we support Major Tammy Duckworth in her bid for the U.S. House, and Duckworth lost part of her legs in service to her country. Didn’t Duckworth’s injury earn her at least two terms in Congress? Also, if Rasmussen releases a poll showing Governor Linda Lingle (R-Hawaii) having moved to within three points of Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) in a hypothetical match-up, will McCain supporters urge Lingle not to run? Inouye earned the Congressional Medal of Honor 65 years ago.
Why the inconsistency? Simple. Serving in the military, while honorable, doesn’t mean you have the right philosophy. It doesn’t necessarily mean you can do well in political office. Grant and Taylor were great generals but lousy presidents.
Davy Crockett’s service to his country only netted him three terms in Congress. With 28 years in the House and the Senate, McCain doesn’t have room to complain.
Reason #5: There is no divine right of Republican senators.
Whatever reason one has for a primary challenge, many Republicans gasp in horror at the thought of turning out a Republican incumbent, as if they were feudal serfs from the Middle Ages aghast at the idea of challenging the king.
This is America, where senators serve at the privilege of the voters. Serving in Congress isn’t an entitlement. Our elected officials work for us, not the other way around.
Reason #6: Put the fear of the voters back into Republican senators.
For decades, primaries have been free rides for GOP senators. The last elected Republican incumbent to lose a Senate primary was Jacob Javits. Many Republican senators are out of touch with the party’s base. Republicans have given renomination to every Republican to seek reelection in the past thirty years. Is it then any surprise that they become arrogant and dismissive?
The effect of a McCain defeat or near defeat, coupled with the potential defeat of Utah’s Senator Robert Bennett at the that state’s convention, would send a clear message to senators across the country that they do not own the offices they hold. They might then learn that they will be called to account and replaced if they are not responsive to the party base.
Reason #7: Show we learned something from Arlen Specter.
In 2004, Pennsylvania Republicans could have defeated Arlen Specter in the Republican primary, but a last-minute campaign by President Bush and Senator Rick Santorum saved Specter. He paid the party back by switching parties and handing the Democrats a short-lived 60-seat majority in 2009. Conservative voters were told Pat Toomey could not win the state. However, the Democratic nominee only got 42% of the vote, with 5% going to third-party candidates. Toomey likely could have pulled out a victory.
Six years later, some pundits are raising the same fears. Be careful, there’s a dangerous Democratic candidate around the corner. Play it safe and don’t make waves.
Several reports indicate McCain considered a party switch in 2001. Shouldn’t conservatives take away McCain’s power before he decides to stick the knife in? This would be a good year to do so, because the national climate would limit McCain’s ability to stop Republicans from holding his seat without him.
Reason #8: Our long dark night will be over.
McCain famously suspended his presidential campaign and headed to Washington to fix the economy. However, he proved a famous axiom about the road to hell being paved with good intentions.
The bipartisan vote for TARP made the ending to The Dark Knight look like a happy one. At the end of the movie, the “heroes” were all compromised. Even stalwarts of fiscal conservatism who had spent years arguing that big government wasn’t the answer decided to cast their vote for a $700 billion bailout, including Rep. John Shadegg and Senator Tom Coburn.
The vote cost Republicans the Senate seat in Minnesota and forced Senator Saxby Chambliss into a runoff. Not only that, it demoralized conservatives because the vote for TARP presented government as the savior able to solve our country’s problems.
For many conservatives, the GOP’s decision to chomp down on what Rep. John Boehner colorfully called a “crap sandwich” created a perception of the party as out of touch and unprincipled. The support of John McCain as the Republican presidential candidate was key to getting reluctant Republicans on board.
A McCain defeat will change people’s perception and perhaps cause some conservatives to feel like the GOP actually gets it. McCain’s defeat will allow Republicans to move on from 2008’s betrayal of principle.