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Understanding McCain's rift with the Right


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By W. James Antle III., Washington Examiner

Many a headline has been devoted to John McCain’s feud with President Trump. But what about his nearly as enduring feud with the Republican base?

It is easy to forget as Republican eminences celebrate the Arizona senator’s life. McCain was the Republican presidential nominee just a decade ago, a political feat given the near-implosion of his campaign in 2007 despite the fact that it was arguably his turn (he had been the runner-up in 2000, which was frequently how Republicans decided these things pre-Trump).

But Trump isn’t the only Republican sore with McCain. According to a June CBS News Battleground Tracker poll, 68 percent of Arizona Republicans viewed him unfavorably while his favorable rating among Democrats was 62 percent.

A YouGov/Economist poll found McCain had a net favorability rating of plus 60 with Hillary Clinton’s voters, plus 30 with all Americans — and a wash with Trump voters. Trump voters considered McCain a hero by a 52-27 margin, better than he sometimes did with the president himself. But Clinton voters held this view by a 10-1 margin, 80-8.

The final Gallup poll measuring McCain’s popularity in August 2017 gave him a 71 percent favorability rating among Democrats to just 51 percent with Republicans. His numbers fluctuated quite a lot over the years depending on which party he was irritating, however. He was at 92 percent favorable among Republicans on Election Day against Barack Obama in 2008.

What gives? McCain’s side of the dispute seems fairly easy to explain. After years as a foot soldier for the Reagan revolution — it is often forgotten that as late as 1996, he endorsed Phil Gramm for president over Bob Dole — Barry Goldwater’s Senate successor was rattled by the ferocious conservative opposition to McCain-Feingold.

McCain embraced campaign finance reform with the zeal of a convert in the wake of the Keating Five scandal. It was the sort of cause that could get nonagenarian grandmothers to walk across the country, and it fit in with McCain’s good-government sensibilities. The single-issue conservative groups, ranging from abortion foes to gun rights supporters, felt differently.

In 1999, McCain complained to the Associated Press that pro-life groups kept the abortion debate going “because it helps them raise money.” He later told “Meet the Press” that “the national pro-life committee [has] turned a cause into a business ... uncontrolled, undisclosed contributions may be reduced and it may harm their efforts to continue this huge business they've got going in Washington, D.C.”

Things got worse when most movement conservatives — and especially the Christian Right — backed George W. Bush instead in the nastier-than-remembered 2000 Republican primaries. McCain dubbed Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell “agents of intolerance,” a label many conservative Christian voters thought he was applying to them as well.

McCain buried the hatchet with Bush, who will speak at his funeral. And he received the votes of millions of social conservatives in 2008, picking a pro-life evangelical as his running mate. But some of the bitterness lingered and was accentuated over the years by McCain’s fights with the conservative base.

These voters didn’t like McCain’s alliances with Ted Kennedy and later Chuck Schumer against them on immigration. (“But I’ll build the goddamned fence if they want it,” he later told Vanity Fair, referring to a precursor to Trump’s proposed wall.) They disapproved of McCain calling conservative lawmakers “wacko birds,” a remark he later regretted.

Many of these old wounds were ripped open once again by McCain’s difficult relationship with Trump. The conflict was hardly one-sided, from Trump’s appalling comment about McCain being “captured” in Vietnam to his having to practically be dragged kicking and screaming to minimally recognize the late senator’s service. McCain’s many criticisms of Trump’s temperament have been repeatedly borne out by events.

McCain organized his funeral to be in no small part a bipartisan rebuke of Trump. From his final statement to his choice of eulogists, McCain is sparring with Trump over the meaning of conservatism even from the great beyond.

Nevertheless, Trump got a lot of mileage out of the perception that many Republican leaders, no matter how personally decent, were content to lose to liberals. McCain was most celebrated as a maverick when he sided with liberals and often condemned when he stood up to them.

McCain wasn't wrong that there are bigger things than Republican versus Democrat, Left versus Right. Even those conservative detractors should celebrate his virtues now.


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Politics - U.S. Daily News: Understanding McCain's rift with the Right
Understanding McCain's rift with the Right
Politics - U.S. Daily News
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