Read Paul's bio and previous columns


January 29, 2008

Why Fredheads Can Embrace John McCain and Mitt Romney


Let’s face it: the majority of those who supported Fred Thompson did so because they sincerely believed that he was the only reliable conservative in the race. Few questioned his commitment to conservative principles. Not even his opponents, who picked on his speaking style and campaign schedule rather than his policy proposals, questioned his principles.


Upon Thompson’s withdrawal, Mitt Romney released the following statement: “Throughout this campaign, Fred Thompson brought a laudable focus to the challenges confronting our country and the solutions necessary to meet them. He stood for strong conservative ideas and believed strongly in the need to keep our conservative coalition together.”


Wow! One heck of an admission for a candidate whose campaign has centered on claiming the embodiment of Reaganite principles.


Romney then said that Thompson “focused on pulling together the old Reagan coalition, the conservative coalition of social, economic and foreign policy conservatives . . . And so his leaving the race is sad for those who were big fans of his, but it probably helps my effort in terms of bringing together those Reagan coalition individuals, and it probably will be a bit of a boost for me.”


So Romney praises Thompson for being a candidate in the spirit of the Reagan coalition, only to subsequently claim Fredheads as his own, because hey, he’s a candidate in the spirit of the Reagan coalition too, and he’s the only one left in the race.


Not so fast, Mitt.


In the dismal field of Republicans remaining in the race, Romney does have a legitimate claim to Thompson’s supporters, but he is not the only one. Fredheads will certainly not flock to Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee in large numbers, since between these two candidates, each leg of the Republican tripod is effectively shattered. But there is one more. Despite the vitriolic language spewed at John McCain by many prominent conservatives, the Arizona senator can make just as good a case for the Fredheads.


Romney has made a great effort to reach a spot from which he can appeal to conservatives from all stripes. He has engaged in significant stretching to reconcile his record with his current positions, and where stretching would have caused a snap, he flat out announced his conversion on the issue. And considering his situation, this strategy has seen some success. Look at where he is now, and compare that with Giuliani, who has stuck by some of his more liberal positions.


Indeed, policy-wise, Romney is close to where he should be to get the nomination. He understands that the war on terror is not merely a venture engineered by President Bush, but that it is a long-brewing battle between Islamic radicalism and the modern world. He is pro-life and continues to milk his experience in the private sector to establish his potential role as the economy’s stimulator. All of that is fine and dandy, and has in fact gotten him reasonable support from the former Thompson camp.


But Romney needs to understand that while ideology is paramount, Fredheads aren’t necessarily willing to sacrifice other crucial factors such as consistency, reliability and trustworthiness. This is where McCain comes in.


For one, a young McCain turned down an opportunity to be released by the North Vietnamese before some of his fellow prisoners of war, and spent an additional five years in a box because of it. No matter what you think of his positions, McCain is an American hero who has defined honor better than any dictionary ever will.


McCain has voted his instinct even when it earned him abhorrence from many Republicans. He has not forgone his beliefs even when they were politically inconvenient. He has earned well-deserved respect for his pronouncements that he would rather lose an election than lose a war. With McCain, conservatives will not always get what they want, but they will get exactly what he says they will get. This is a trait that attracted conservatives to Thompson, and that now brings them closer to McCain.


Of course, honor and respect is not sufficient to earn the conservative vote, and an example of this is Giuliani’s courageous steadfastness on issues such as abortion and the resultant deterioration in his numbers. The right ideology is a mandatory prerequisite, and McCain does have the minimum.


With the exception of his positions on a few issues such as illegal immigration and campaign finance, McCain is an overall conservative. He is pro-life, a leader on strong foreign policy and aggressive on cutting spending. He denounced agricultural subsidies in Iowa when Romney did the opposite. His lifetime American Conservative Union rating is a respectable 82.3, which is impressive considering Fred Thompson is only four points higher.


Now, McCain is by no means ideal, and neither is Romney. But both of them would motivate former Fredheads to drive to Ohio and get the vote out in the days before the general election. In the end, it’s all about preserving the Reagan coalition, however imperfectly. And both McCain and Romney are capable of doing it.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


Click here to talk to our writers and editors about this column and others in our discussion forum.


To e-mail feedback about this column, click here. If you enjoy this writer's work, please contact your local newspapers editors and ask them to carry it.

This is Column # PI090. Request permission to publish here.
Op-Ed Writers
Eric Baerren
Lucia de Vernai
Herman Cain
Dan Calabrese
Alan Hurwitz
Paul Ibrahim
David Karki
Llewellyn King
Gregory D. Lee
David B. Livingstone
Nathaniel Shockey
Stephen Silver
Candace Talmadge
Jamie Weinstein
Feature Writers
Mike Ball
Bob Batz
The Laughing Chef
David J. Pollay
Business Writers
Cindy Droog
D.F. Krause