If 2010 proves to be a “wave” election for the GOP, conservatives can expect more than a few half-as-much Republicans to sweep into Congress. What’s a half-as-much Republican? One who’s willing to do half as much as liberals on big government initiatives. Guys like John McCain and his sidekick, Lindsey Graham, for instance. Or Maine’s Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. Or departing Senator George Voinovich.
But there’s an effective way to put half-as-much Republicans on notice: defeat a couple of them in upcoming primaries, especially in high-profile Senate contests.
Sending a couple of half-as-muchers to summertime defeats would create quite a stir and cause other such critters, like Mark Kirk (IL) and Mike Castle (DE), to pause. Kirk and Castle are the likely GOP Senate nominees in their states. It would also be a shot across the bow of the GOP Senate leadership, which otherwise might generously want to accommodate its half-as-much brethren in the 112th Congress.
The aforementioned John McCain and Florida Governor Charlie Crist are both ripe for the picking. Both face stiff primary challenges. Senator McCain is squaring off against former U.S. Representative JD Hayworth. Crist is already battling for his political life against former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio.
No conservative worth his salt is unaware of the notorious “independence” of John McCain, Arizona’s senior senator. Having long ago wiggled from his conservative cocoon, the senator prides himself on his eclectic policy choices. He is gainst government-run health care but for cap and trade (and then against it as the 2008 election progressed). He’s a true blue warrior in the war on terror but squishy in the war to secure the nation’s southern border.
Swapping the flinty and unpredictable John McCain for Hayworth is a nice bargain from a conservative’s viewpoint. Hayworth will be no less opposed to government-run health care, but he’ll also stand clearly against the economy-killing cap and trade scam. The former Phoenix talk show host will be a reliable vote in the war on terror, but he won’t fall in with Washington’s Republican and Democratic establishments on amnesty for illegals.
In November polling, in a hypothetical matchup, McCain and Hayworth were statistically tied. McCain now shows a comfortable double-digit lead. But the internals and other soundings must be encouraging for Hayworth, as he quit his day job to enter the contest. And Senator McCain has launched tough, preemptive strikes against Hayworth, indicating fear of his candidacy. The primary isn’t until late August, giving Hayworth plenty of time to press the flesh and make his case.
Yes, John McCain is a hero. He lost valuable years of his life as a POW during the Vietnam War. For his sacrifices, he’s earned Americans’ undying gratitude. But the nation has entered a perilous time in its history. The challenges are tough and require stark choices. It’s one of those rare seminal moments when voters may choose the nation’s direction for a generation. It’s no time for Republicans to split differences with liberal Democrats or demonstrate how much they’ve grown politically — grown right out of some of their conservative beliefs.
Florida Governor Charlie Crist may already be one for the ages. The governor, who cleverly gave Barack Obama the man hug last year, when voters were still flush with Obamamania, now finds that it’s proving to be an indictment of his judgment and character.
Seizing the moment, the governor endorsed Mr. Obama’s economic stimulus scheme, after finding that plenty of Floridians thought the stimulus to be a half-baked boondoggle. Governor Crist has never been known to paint in Reagan’s bold colors, instead preferring the pale pastels of a 70s Tampa bar and lounge.
Marco Rubio is proving to be the real deal: a smart, attractive, and energetic conservative who has captured the imagination of the Sunshine State’s conservative grassroots activists. He has repeatedly upended the well financed but hapless Mr. Crist in county GOP straw votes, including in Crist’s home county of Pinellas. He also opened a jaw-dropping twelve-point lead in a poll released by Rasmussen on February 1. Whether or not these developments will break the Crist campaign’s back is hard to say. But Rubio’s repeated thumpings of the governor are laying the groundwork for a major upset victory by Rubio in the state’s August primary.
Conservatives can hear establishment GOP tongues wagging now: “There go those narrow-minded conservatives again. Wanting to shrink the GOP tent. Wanting litmus tests for Republican candidates. The GOP can’t possibly be successful as just the party of the Deep South.”
The answer to all that is simple. Of course, conservatives don’t want a smaller tent. Like Reagan, today’s conservatives want to win majorities. But they want to do it like Reagan: anchored to conservative bedrock. Conservatives reject the historicism that has infected liberals and seems to have infected the likes of David Brooks and Peggy Noonan, who believe the values and principles that brought Ronald Reagan to the presidency nearly thirty years ago aren’t enduring, but change with circumstances and from generation to generation. Hence, one explanation for the earlier dalliance of Brooks and Noonan, along with other faux conservatives, with Mr. Obama.
It would be helpful for Mitch McConnell, John Boehner, and Michael Steele to make it abundantly clear to Republican candidates that if the GOP wins majorities in Congress this November, items like cap and trade, amnesty for illegals, bailouts, higher taxes, and whatever else makes for less conservative government are off the boards. Reaching across the aisle is fine, but the object is to bring Democrats over to the conservative side.
Knocking off a couple of high-profile establishment Republicans would make cautionary examples for other half-as-much Republicans. The GOP is only going to get a couple of bites at the apple (2010 and 2012) to prove that it has the answers to the nation’s problems. With the electorate restless for change, and trending conservative, half as much of the liberalism that is wrecking the country isn’t good enough.