Robert Novak

Meanwhile, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist is worried about a prominent journalist informing him that McCain a few years ago said to him, off the record, that as president he would have to raise taxes. McCain more recently has told me, on the record, he never would support a tax increase and, consequently, favors making permanent the Bush tax cuts.

Norquist and McCain have a stormy personal relationship. As Senate Indian Affairs Committee chairman, McCain in 2005 subpoenaed records of Norquist's dealings with imprisoned Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Denying wrongdoing, Norquist said McCain held a grudge against him for campaigning against the senator's 2000 presidential bid. Norquist told me he has no personal animus and only wants assurance that McCain opposes higher taxes.

According to exit polls, voters calling themselves "very conservative" supported Romney in Florida by two to one, and McCain still won in a state described as a microcosm of America. McCain survived a scathing assault on conservative talk radio led by Rush Limbaugh. Romney's appeal to the right on immigration backfired, triggering Sen. Mel Martinez's endorsement of McCain and a five-to-one vote for him by the Cuban community.

McCain as the Republican nominee would need those "very conservative" voters. He will encounter some of them at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington Feb. 7-9. His campaign Wednesday asked for McCain to speak there after rejecting an invitation to last year's meeting. At CPAC, he might well consider providing "straight talk" about Samuel Alito and promising to veto any tax increase by a Democratic Congress.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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