AZ GOP Censures McCain

A slap on the wrist underscores the bottom-up nature of US parties.

John McCainVia TPMArizona GOP Censures McCain For ‘Liberal’ Record

The Arizona Republican Party formally censured Sen. John McCain on Saturday, citing a voting record they say is insufficiently conservative.

The resolution to censure McCain was approved by a voice-vote during a meeting of state committee members in Tempe, state party spokesman Tim Sifert said. It needed signatures from at least 20 percent of state committee members to reach the floor for debate.

Sifert said no further action was expected.


According to the resolution, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee has campaigned as a conservative but has lent his support to issues “associated with liberal Democrats,” such as immigration reform and to funding the law sometimes known as Obamacare.

This is interesting because it is (I am pretty sure) a highly unusual (if not unique) attempt by local party elites to try and assert influence over its party label/office holders.  But, of course, as attempts go it it pretty anemic.  Indeed, it ultimately underscores that lack of any kind of control at all that party elites have over candidates.

Specifically note the following:

1.  This has no effect on McCain’s ability to use the label “Republican.”

2.  It is in no way affects his membership in the party.

3.  It has no influence over any re-nomination that McCain might pursue, should he decide to seek office again after his current term expires in 2016.

4.  It certainly does not affect (or even influence) his standing with the Senate GOP conference.

This is interesting as we seek to understand US party dynamics and it is a reminder of the bottom-up, non-hierarchical nature of parties in the US (in contrast to, for example, most of the rest of the world).  Ours is very much a candidate-centric party system that is solidified by primaries as the nominating mechanism (i.e., the only gatekeepers who can deny a candidate the usage of the party label are primary voters).

Indeed, if McCain does run for office again, the following statement will be empirically tested:

Timothy Schwartz, the Legislative District 30 Republican chairman who helped write the resolution, said the censure showed that McCain was losing support from his own party.

Such a test, by the way, would underscore who “his own party” really is:  party elites, or primary voters.  Odds are such a test would demonstrate that “the party” is defined by the primary voters.  I look forward to the test, because I find this all quite interesting (indeed, increasingly the role played by primaries in the US system has been of great academic interest to me).

My observations are, by the way, and not about normative judgments.  I do find it worth noting that a state party would behave this way, as it would seem to be indicative of the current age of polarized, ideological parties and it raises questions.  Will parties start to seek more control over their candidates?  We have, for example, seen some of this in Virginia with the state Republicans using conventions to choose some of its recent candidates.

Party behavior matters, as it influences legislative behavior, and ultimately, public policy.

There is, of course, a whole other discussion of whether McCain is, in fact, a deviant vis-a-vis his party, ideologically speaking.  At a minimum it is interesting to note that the AZ GOP find immigration reform and voting to fund lase already passed to be too “liberal.”

(Gracias to MSS for the e-mail hat tip).

FILED UNDER: US Politics, , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Tillman says:

    I imagine it’d hit his fundraising, assuming donors bothered listening to the state party.

    Also, great work Arizona GOP, now McCain can claim to be a maverick again.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    Just one more indication of the crazyfication of the modern Republican party.

  3. Rafer Janders says:

    This sort of reminds me of the Iran-Iraq War — I want everyone to lose.

  4. C. Clavin says:

    Well they are right…I mean…what self-respecting Republican gives a damn about those dark-skinned folks…or caring for the sick and the poor?

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Steven, I generally refrain from pointing out typos, but this one might not even be a typo, so I am unsure?

    I do find it worth nothing that a state party would behave this way, as it would seem to be indicative


  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    There is, of course, a whole other discussion of whether McCain is, in fact, a deviant…

    Considering the fact that he is friends with Joe Lieberman, I’m not sure he could be more deviant. 😉

  7. al-Ameda says:

    Speaking as a Democrat, and a member of the non-27% in good standing, this is good news indeed.

    I suppose that Arizona Republican politics is now somewhat analogous to supporters of Lenin going after supporters of Trotsky.

  8. gVOR08 says:

    A very minor bit of whirlwind reaping. There will be more.

  9. @OzarkHillbilly: Well, pointing out my typos would be a full time job, to be sure.

    You are correct, it should read “noting” although the other version does kind of work.


  10. Electroman says:

    You can’t spell “crazy” without “R-AZ”.

  11. Kylopod says:

    Two things occurred to me when seeing this headline:

    (1) “Censure” is an odd word for describing ideological deviations. It usually comes up when a politician has committed (or has been accused of committing) ethical or legal wrongdoings. I suppose RINOism itself now qualifies as a scandal.

    (2) The question that came to my mind is, why now? The right has viewed McCain as a thorn in its side for over a decade, and ever since his defeat in the 2000 GOP primaries, he has moved distinctly to the right (for the quantitative-minded, here is a line chart I made of McCain’s American Conservative Union ratings since 2001–you can deny that temperatures are getting warmer, but you can’t deny that the overall direction of McCain’s conservatism has been distinctly upward). I can understand why conservatives were upset at him in 2000 when he was a high-profile presidential candidate pushing campaign-finance reform, attacking Bush’s proposed tax cuts, and referring to Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as “agents of intolerance”; I cannot understand why they would single him out now, as if he were a previously reliable conservative office-holder who suddenly drank the liberal kool-aid and decided to buck his party and support the right of federal employees to return to their jobs.

  12. Tillman says:

    @Kylopod: I guess they’re afraid he might live long enough to seek re-election.

  13. Kari Q says:

    I am convinced that the word ‘liberal’ has quite literally no meaning at this point, at least to conservatives.

  14. Grewgills says:

    @Kari Q:
    In that context it means either ‘something I don’t like’ or ‘something said or supported by someone I don’t like’.