Conservatives Against McCain

Judging by the enemies he’s making, I’m liking John McCain more with each passing day.

Ann Coulter says she’d “campaign for” Hillary Clinton, who she thinks “is more conservative.”

Meanwhile, Glenn Beck is railing against “Juan McCain” for his outreach to Hispanics.

Thankfully, this over-the-top stuff is being rejected by most conservatives.

AllahPundit calls Coulter’s statement “Madness” and Sean Hackbarth, late of the Fred Thompson campaign, says she is “officially an idiot.”

RedState‘s Leon H Wolf warns commenters that they may “complain vociferously about McCain, Bush, or anyone else’s position on immigration” but they will be banned from the site if they do so in racist terms.

Even Jonah Goldberg, hardly the voice of rational discourse while hawking a book about how American liberals are Fascists, thinks “the notion that, variously, conservatism, the country or the party are doomed if he’s the nominee or the president is pretty absurd.”

Moreover, he makes an interesting point:

I think both the GOP and the conservative movement could benefit from a slightly more adversarial relationship. George W. Bush moved the party leftward and/or damaged the image of the GOP in many respects precisely because he was given the benefit of the doubt by conservatives who saw him as “one of us.” It’s not obvious to me that having a more transactional relationship with a Republican president would be altogether bad for the country, the party or the conservative movement.

As I’ve noted many times before, the mainstream of both major American parties would fit comfortably within the British Conservative Party. Indeed, within its right wing. So, the choice between Hillary Clinton and John McCain, if it comes to that, isn’t one between extremes. Contra Victor David Hanson, the “gulf” between them is hardly “Grand-Canyon like.”

That’s not to say, however, that the election is unimportant or that there are not significant differences. Clinton isn’t Barack Obama, the most liberal senator in a recent National Journal survey, but she is #16. The full chart apparently is available only to subscribers, so I can’t find a comparable score for McCain. We do know, however, that his lifetime conservative rating using the same index is 71.8. This compares favorably with Tom Tancredo, a darling of the Borders Are Our Only Issue conservatives, who rates 75.9.

Additionally, from a conservative perspective, there’s another advantage to voting for McCain: You know that he actually agrees with you on the issues where he says he agrees with you. Whether he’s 71.8 percent conservative or 82.6 (American Conservative Union), it’s hard to accuse him of pandering. With Clinton, conversely, one can be excused for wondering if she’s just positioning herself for maximum political benefit.

UPDATE (Alex Knapp): Regarding the National Journal survey naming Obama “the most liberal Democrat”, Steve Benen has an excellent post explaining exactly why this is a ridiculous finding (since I don’t think anyone seriously thinks that Obama is more liberal than, say, Russ Feingold):

What’s more, Obama was the 16th most liberal senator in 2005, and the 10th most liberal in 2006, before racing to the front of the pack in 2007. National Journal suggests this has something to do with Obama moving to the left to curry favor with Democratic primary voters.

But there’s a more logical explanation: Obama missed a whole lot of votes in 2007 — he’s been on the campaign trail — but was on the floor for many of the biggest, most consequential votes. In nearly every instance, he voted with the party. And with that, voila! The most liberal senator in America.

Except that’s not much of a standard. The rankings use an amorphous meaning of the word “liberal,” and the percentage doesn’t take missed votes into account at all (which also helps explain why Kerry nabbed the top spot four years ago)

Brian Beutler further elaborates:

Yes, passion is hard to gauge. But instead of trying (by, say, logging hours spent speaking at hearings, from the chamber, etc., and assigning those a value to be paired with voting records) National Journal relies instead on a weird system by which a senator who takes the “liberal” position 95 times out of 100 is somehow less liberal than his colleague who takes the liberal position 48 times out of 50.

Most of these types of “voting guides” are dubious, and tend to say more about the groups promoting them than they do about the politicians they are ostensibly describing.

UPDATE (James Joyner): Fair point on the various rating scales. There are all manner of problems — What counts as “conservative” vice “liberal”? What to do with missed votes? — but they have the advantage of being independent measures. National Journal or ACU or whathaveyou have a system in place and it serves as a means of comparison. It’s not perfect, by any means, but it’s preferable than basing one’s view on two or three controversial votes, which is what campaigns seem to focus on.

UPDATE II (James Joyner): Sociologist Kieran Healy endorses Lewis and Poole’s Optimal Classification ranking as a better alternative. By this measure, Obama is merely the 21st most liberal senator and Clinton is 25th. McCain is 94th.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Triumph says:

    Thankfully, this over-the-top stuff is being rejected by most conservatives.

    This is crazy. Remember, McCain was about to bolt the Republican Party about two years ago. If conservatives want to nominate a turncoat liberal like McCain, they do so at their own peril.

  2. Andy says:


    I think your last point was the best. Bill Clinton eventually became well known for drifting to wherever the polls said the current was fastest- on those rare instances where he tried to do something of consequence. Bush’s hallmark has become his lack of interest in even blessing us with the knowledge of what his policies are.

    Hillary seems to be by far the most likely to lead us to more of the same. McCain (even to this Democrat) is a refreshing contrast. Good for him for showing some candor and treating us all like adults. I might not agree with all of his priorities, but at least with McCain I feel like I might know what they’d be *after* he takes the Oath of Office.

  3. FireWolf says:

    James, I am glad to see you posted the youtube shot of Ann Coulter. If you hadn’t I was going to post the link on the “writing off mccain” story.

    I think the interview with Ann Coulter further reinforced my position about McCain in that last McCain piece you did. There is no point in hiding the truth that John McCain is a RINO.

    Having him as the nomination simply means you’ll have a Hillary Presidency. And that’s why Hillary is so cordial with the old coot: he’s her ticket in.

  4. Paul says:

    Wow, Obama needs to get Coulter’s campaign for Hillary started RIGHT NOW.

    I agree the NJ rankings are silly. Didn’t they rank Kerry #1 in 2004? Something seems more than a little suspicious about whether they are rigging the formula for presidential election years. Or maybe it is because presidential candidates miss most of the votes except the ones they need for scoring points in the liberal Dem primaries. Is McCain ranked more conservative this year that usual? You know, like more conservative than Hillary? 😉

  5. Mark Jaquith says:

    The full chart apparently is available only to subscribers, so I can’t find a comparable score for McCain.

    McCain didn’t vote enough times to qualify for a ranking.

  6. James Joyner says:

    McCain didn’t vote enough times to qualify for a ranking.

    Yep — NJ actually mentioned that in the article. I was looking for the March 2007 rating as a means of comparison.

  7. I’m sorry, but why should I care what Coulter thinks?
    Do people really need her to tell them what to decide.
    It is obvious that McCain is the most Left of the Conservatives.
    I don’t need a grandstanding hot head to tell me that. She has no credibility

  8. Steve Plunk says:

    Jeesh, can’t a girl do a little grandstanding before Super Tuesday? Obviously she would rather see Romney over McCain and uses the old ruse of withholding her vote. People see through that.

    When did Jonah Goldberg lose his ability to have rational discourse? The premise of his book is correct, liberals have a history of fascist behavior on petty topics and it could get worse. A very reasonable thesis. The insult doesn’t stick.

  9. legion says:

    I think it has less to do with McCain’s supposed liberality and more to do with the preferences of the GOP kingmakers. Now that Liz Cheney’s on Mittster’s team, it’s clear that he’s the choice of the Bush inner circle. That, in turn, brings out all the bootkissers and lickspittles, like Beck and Hewitt and Coulter, to fling poo at McCain. Considering the level to which that machine sank the last time McCain was a candidate, I expect this will get much uglier, very quickly.

  10. Brainster says:

    All the ratings systems are flawed. Many of the groups will advise senators and congressmen that a particular vote will be counted in the rankings, and I have heard from several staffers that votes are sometimes cast with a weather eye towards getting a good rating rather than what the representative thinks is best for the country.

    That said, they’re reasonable correct in showing the vast gulf between supposed RINOS and Democrats. I have to laugh that before Lieberman endorsed McCain, there were a lot of conservatives (and liberals) who thought Joe belonged in the GOP and McCain belonged with the Donkeys. According to the American Conservative Union, McCain’s career rating is 83, while Lieberman’s is 16. Essentially, McCain votes with the ACU’s recommended position 17 times out of 20, while Lieberman votes against it 17 times out of 20.

    McCain Derangement Syndrome writ large.

  11. Shugart used the Poole numbers in a post a few weeks back. I have been meaning to delve into those numbers for longer-term comparisons. It would be interesting to know how Thompson’s and McCain’s compare, for example.

  12. John425 says:

    McCain vs Clinton or McCain vs. Obama reminds me of a stanza from Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” where they really nailed it.

    “Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon.
    Going to the candidate’s debate.
    Laugh about it, shout about it
    When you’ve got to choose
    Every way you look at this you lose.”

    Koo koo ka choo

  13. just me says:

    I think it has less to do with McCain’s supposed liberality and more to do with the preferences of the GOP kingmakers.

    I think this is the reality.

    The GOP kingmakers wanted Romney to be the annointed one. Somehow the voters rebelled and said thanks but no thanks-at least so far. Romney certainly isn’t out of it, although other contenders have fallen by the wayside.

    McCain isn’t perfect, but I don’t think he is a RINO either. I think McCain overall is conservative enough.

    I also think there are some issues this go around that don’t really have an easy conservative/liberal point of view. There are just too many choices and too many nuances.

    As for the ratings-I don’t think they are meaningless, in the sense that the definitions of what is or isn’t conservative are equally applied, but I imagine looking at a range is more meaningful than spitting out a numerical ranking. But I hardly picture Obama’s votes being skewed so badly that he is all the sudden in the political center.

    He probably isn’t the most liberal, but I am willing to be he is among the 1/3 that is most liberal.

  14. sam says:

    Dear Steve:

    When did Jonah Goldberg lose his ability to have rational discourse? The premise of his book is correct, liberals have a history of fascist behavior on petty topics and it could get worse. A very reasonable thesis. The insult doesn’t stick.

    Please see Flat Tax? No, Fat Ban at the top of the OTB page. W. T. Mayhall, Jr. is a Republican rep in Mississippi. Last time I checked, there were zero liberal Republicans in Mississippi on the planet Earth.

  15. bains says:

    Even Jonah Goldberg, hardly the voice of rational discourse while hawking a book about how American liberals are Fascists…

    Have you read the book, or just the WaPo/NYTimes review?

    Hyperbole is bad, unless it fits ones own agenda.

  16. floyd says:

    Another applicable Paul Simon quote…

    “I am just a poor boy, though my story’s seldom told.
    I have squandered my resistance,
    For a pocketful of mumbles, such are promises.
    All lies and jest.
    Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” lie-la-lie….

  17. Steve says:

    The Mainstream media has anointed McCain not any GOP ‘king makers.’ The LA Times and the NYT both have endorsed McCain.
    Romney won Maine last night by a significant margin.
    Beware. I voted for Perot both times. But I also voted for Reagan, Bush Sr once, and GW twice.
    I will not vote for that mainstream media darling who loves to poke conservatives in the eye. I will not vote for McCain.
    My Rep is Dr. Tom Coburn. You should give us such conservatives. Also from my state is James Inhofe. If you vote for McCain in the primaries then you are making it impossible for me, an independent, to vote for your candidate.
    I will not vote for McCain. So if you want to lose the election then vote for McCain in the primary.
    I will vote for any other candidate(I do not consider Ron Paul a candidate.)
    I like Romney. Put him up and I will vote with you but put up McCain and you will lose because I cannot vote for him and I will not.
    Go ahead and call me names and say, “He isn’t serious.” But remember, I voted for Perot twice and that allowed Clinton to take the Whitehouse twice. If you want Clinton or Obama in the Whitehouse then vote for McCain in the primary and make it impossible for me to vote on the republican ticket.

  18. bhs says:

    McCain will fracture the Republican party. He will lose in the general as the Dems hang the war on him, beat him with his self confessed weakness with the economy, and of course his age. Independents will move to the Democrate candidate and without the base who, will NEVER forgive or trust him, he has only the Republican left. Republicans would rather lose on principle than sell out to win with McCain,

  19. Todd says:

    I actually found this web site because I’m a die-hard Republican who is seriously considering voting for Clinton if McCain gets the nomination. That or not voting at all if Obama gets the Dem. nomination. McCains views on taxes and immigration simply can’t be tolerated. At least with Clinton we are getting a known quantity.

    What a mess…

  20. James says:

    I am fed up with the WAR and all the Demacraps and
    Republicons making money off of it. I am fed up with these thieving lying counterfeiting morons. I will not vote for John Mc’Cain that globalist Jerk and I will never support the Republican party again. I think its High Time we vote independent and I sure hope Ron Paul wins. I also urge everyone reading this to practise You’re second amendment rights and buy a fire arm because we might need it in the future. The government has shown me its gonna get worse and they are going to continue taxing me to death while giving out free money to their looser voting blocks. The government is broken and its high time we throw those jerks out of office. After we throw them out we make a vote and confiscate their lands and their families money and give it to the people whom suffered from this war. Then we kick all the elitest jerks out of the country.

  21. Sammy says:

    McCain is not a conservative and not a Republican. He is a leftist Democrat and despises the electorate as he thinks the “masses” are stupid.

    He is not a war hero and he has fought every attempt to find out what happed to the Viet Nam Mia’s and attacked those who want to find out. There is a good reason he did that.

    He was and still is for Amnesty.
    He and Feingold cut out a piece of the 1st amendment. He is for total gun control. And he likes the idea of unending wars, regardless of human or economic cost. And I think his volcanic temper shows him to be unstable and dangerous.

    I do not trust anything he says. His record shows what he is. And his record proves him as anti-American citizens.

    I have been a Republican for the last 35 years and I would NEVER EVER vote for him. I would write in my dog’s name first, who at least is loyal.