Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- The prospect of John McCain all but clinching the GOP presidential nomination in Super Tuesday's primaries has certainly raised the anxiety level among conservative Republicans.

The trouble with McCain, conservative leaders say, is that he strays far afield from party orthodoxy on so many issues -- vital, ideological issues that lie at the core of the GOP's agenda.

There was the Arizona senator's rigid opposition to the Bush tax cuts. He voted against them twice, in 2001 and 2003, votes that to this day he claims were justified, even though he now wants to make the tax cuts permanent.

There was his authorship of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill, a piece of legislation that interest groups on both sides of the political aisle said was a draconian attack on the once-sacrosanct freedom to engage in political advocacy on the airwaves in the weeks leading up to an election.

McCain said his bill would end the role of big money in election campaigns, but it did nothing of the sort. Campaign spending has only ballooned to even more mammoth proportions. Instead, the legislation turned out to be nothing more than an incumbent protection law, shielding members of Congress from serious political challenges at the ballot box.

The bill was harshly criticized by widely disparate groups, from the AFL-CIO to the Right To Life Committee, who deemed it unconstitutional, which it is.

Then there was McCain's alliance with Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, on the Kennedy-McCain immigration reform bill that was hotly opposed by the base of his party who think it went too far in offering illegal immigrants a conditional path to citizenship. The uproar caused him to tone down the issue on the campaign trail, placing more emphasis on border security, which is the base's chief concern.

A core GOP position on energy independence is to make full use of this country's vast oil reserves, either offshore or in untapped parts of the country, such as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

But McCain, unlike Bush, is opposed to drilling in ANWR, likening it to mining or drilling in the Grand Canyon, an absurd comparison. Oil drilling technology today is as unobtrusive as microsurgery. It would leave a very tiny "footprint" on ANWR's millions of acres and cause no harm to terrain or wildlife.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.