The conservative base isn't fond of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. They disagree with him on a wide variety of issues, and they feel insulted by McCain's ardent desire to please those across the political aisle.
But conservatives are fools if they stay home in November.
There's plenty to question about John McCain, but there's one thing conservatives can't question: McCain is better than Hillary Clinton. He's better than Barack Obama. And it's not close.
McCain is a hard-line proponent of victory in Iraq. He has pledged to lower taxes. He has always fought governmental corruption, even if that has led him to absurd extremes like campaign finance reform. He is a strong pro-life voter. He says he will veto any bill that has any earmarks. In 2006, McCain received a 65 percent rating from the American Conservative Union, which measures whether members of Congress are in line with conservatives on major issues. In 2005, his score was 80 percent.
Here are Hillary Clinton's scores in those same two years: 8 percent and 12 percent. Obama scored 8 percent both years.
It's simply unthinkable to equate McCain's record with either Clinton's or Obama's. McCain is a left-leaning Republican, which means he ranks in the upper half of the Senate in terms of political conservatism. National Journal, by contrast, ranked Clinton the 16th most liberal senator in the Senate in 2007. Obama was No. 1.
Despite the vast difference between McCain and his Democratic opponents, many conservatives are threatening to boycott the 2008 election. They argue that the Republican Party has abandoned conservatism, and that in order to reclaim the Party, the GOP may have to go through the purifying ritual of cataclysmic electoral defeat.
This is historically ignorant. Intraparty squabbles are constant with regard to choosing presidential candidates. Parties do not move toward a particular ideological group because of electoral defeat -- they move toward a particular ideological group because that group is most motivated to back a single candidate. Ronald Reagan was a rising force in the Republican Party before Gerald Ford lost to Jimmy Carter -- he almost wrested the nomination from Ford in 1976. The Democratic Party's recent move to the left has not been a reaction to their electoral defeats in 2000 and 2004 -- after all, Al Gore and John Kerry were certainly quite liberal. The problem with the conservative movement in 2008 wasn't the movement -- it was the lack of a candidate. And sending the GOP to ringing defeat in 2008 won't push the Party back to the right unless there's a candidate to rally around.