On Thursday, at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, Sen. John McCain stood before thousands of conservatives he has done his level best to anger and alienate for a decade -- to ask for their support.
And he made a not unconvincing case.
What he said essentially was this. We have fought each other in the past, and we have fought side by side. And I admit to having made my share of mistakes. But if we do not work together, we lose the presidency. And if we lose the presidency, your causes will be lost, as well as my last chance to be president.
But if you will work with me, many of the causes for which you have fought -- one more justice like Roberts and Alito, retention of the Bush tax cuts, further reductions in tax rates, a more secure border -- will be taken up as the causes of my presidency.
Moreover, my door will be open and your voices heard. And none of this will happen if Hillary or Barack Obama wins, which will happen if we do not join forces and fight together.
Bottom line: If we don't hang together, we all hang separately. If my end of the dinghy sinks, yours will not stay afloat. And if I lose, you get your pound of flesh, but we will both be out in the cold as a Democratic Congress and president undo what was right about the Bush presidency as well as what was wrong about the Bush presidency.
So it is your call.
McCain is no orator. But the speech had humility and humor -- and put the ball back squarely in the court of the conservatives. For John McCain had just taken the first step toward a rapprochement with the right, by asking for an armistice and offering an alliance.
In 1964, as an even more acrimonious battle for the GOP ended at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, where the right hooted and booed Nelson Rockefeller, another Arizonan was far less compromising than John McCain. Barry Goldwater told that convention of conservatives that had just nominated him: "Anyone who joins us in all sincerity, we welcome. Those who do not care for our cause, we don't expect to enter our ranks in any case."
Conservatives now have a decision to make, though months before they have to make it. That decision: Is it better to cede the White House to the Democrats than have McCain become president of the United States and leader of the Republican Party and the nation?
Many have already made that decision: Better, they argue, to lose to Hillary than win with McCain. Better to be principled than pragmatic. As John F. Kennedy once said, "Sometimes party loyalty asks too much."
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