The election cycle of 2008 has been characterized by longshot candidates and miraculous comebacks. Mike Huckabee won the Iowa caucus with virtually no money and a small operation Barack Obama has turned the dominant narrative of the Democratic race from “Hillary the inevitable” to “Hillary the vulnerable.” And of course, one has to mention Ron Paul, the Texas congressman with libertarian leanings who raised over $6 million.
The most surprising development of all, however, has been the resurrection of John McCain’s presidential campaign. After finding himself at odds with the party base over immigration, weathering a shake-up in staff, and spending a summer without any campaign funds, McCain’s withdrawal from the race seemed all but inevitable. Against all odds, McCain rallied his campaign and renewed his coffers through nonstop retail politicking throughout the early primary states. This tactic earned him a win in New Hampshire and a flood of free media coverage.
As McCain stands ready for the South Carolina primary (commanding a healthy 9-point lead in national polls), Republicans and conservatives alike must ask the question: What does McCain offer as a presidential candidate?
While Mitt Romney emphasizes his business credentials, Rudy his law-and-order approach to governance, and Huckabee his concern for the average voter, McCain has three major selling points: his character and personal integrity, his experience in matters of foreign policy, and his leadership on the issue of fiscal discipline.
Certainly, at first glance, these points make for a very persuasive case. Unfortunately for Senator McCain, closer examination raises serious questions about the nature of a McCain presidency.
The character issue is certainly a smart move for McCain’s campaign; it showcases one of his most impressive attributes.
McCain is well-known for the courage and fidelity he displayed as a POW in the Hanoi Hilton, and he has an equally well-deserved reputation for integrity as a Senator.
Unfortunately, McCain also has the tendency to make every political issue into one of personal integrity. This is the reason that he stubbornly persisted in pushing for an amnesty bill; to abandon it would amount to a betrayal of his personal political code. However, an elected representative of the American people is responsible not only to his own moral compass, but also to those who elected him. Would President John McCain do an about-face and suddenly treat the concerns of the voters with the concern he did not grant them during his time as senator?
McCain’s national security and foreign policy bona fides are indeed impressive; his expertise puts Hillary Clinton’s purported experience in a very insignificant light. Additionally, McCain has been a veritable Rock of Gibralter on the issue of Iraq; when many of his colleagues were ready to abandon the war, McCain stood firm. Senator McCain’s stance was vindicated as the surge began dispelling the chaos and returning Iraqi neighborhoods to relative normality.
As the surge winds down, most experts agree that the bulk of our military operations have been concluded in Iraq. Other concerns lie ahead-the belligerence of Iran’s mullahs, Kim Jong-Il’s nuclear stockpile, rising economic powerhouses in South America and Asia, and a Russia unsure of its future and its place in the world.
Despite the pressing nature of these issues, the majority of McCain’s discussion of foreign policy has dealt with Iraq. It is laudable that McCain was correct about Iraq, but other problems are looming on the horizon. Rather than explain in detail how they should be addressed, McCain is concentrating on the images in the rear-view mirror.
Whatever McCain’s shortcomings, his reputation on fiscal restraint and responsible spending is sterling. In fact, Tom Coburn, the foremost pork warrior in the Senate, has recently announced his endorsement of Senator McCain’s presidential bid. Indeed, McCain has fought and continues to fight porkbarrel spending as fiercely as he resisted the senators who called for a military withdrawal from Iraq. However, opposing frivolous spending is not enough to spur economic expansion; long-term growth is ensured by keeping taxes low and penalties light. During President Bush’s first term, McCain opposed cutting taxes as strongly as he supports them today.
John McCain remains a larger-than life figure in national politics; a man of integrity, a patriot, and an American hero in the truest sense of the word. He is not, however, the candidate best suited to serve as the next President of the United States. His own rationale for his candidacy raises serious questions about the agenda that a McCain administration would pursue under his leadership. As Republicans cast their votes in the South Carolina primary, they would do well to remember McCain’s history and past decisions on these issues. Despite his many admirable qualities, a President McCain would be a grievous mistake; the man simply comes with too much baggage.