Joe Conason has a piece in Salon today about how John McCain is desperately trying to convince the right wing that he is a true conservative. It’s going to be an uphill battle, but not for long.
Certainly there will be many elected officials, bureaucrats, officeholders and assorted pork-choppers who will fall into the McCain ranks without much protest, out of personal interest or partisan loyalty. If conservatives could persuade themselves to accept Romney’s professions of the true faith despite his record of support for abortion rights and gay rights, then why not believe McCain when he promises supply-side tax cuts?
As Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, James Dobson and their lesser imitators furiously explain, they have strong reasons to distrust “straight talker” McCain, who straddles and shifts incessantly to advance his contrarian political strategy. He has so casually disrespected them and their opinions over the years, showing up routinely on the wrong side of so many of their issues, from climate change to gun control to campaign finance reform to the marriage amendment to the Bush tax cuts to judicial nominations, that endorsing him now would look like a wholesale abandonment of principle.
At some point in the next few weeks you’re going to start seeing conservatives sending out these little feelers that suggest that maybe John McCain isn’t that bad after all: that thing about his temper doesn’t mean he’s unbalanced; he’s passionate. Sure, he supported immigration reform that didn’t include concentration camps, but he’s from Arizona and you know he has to have someone to clean his pool. And that age thing? So what if he’s older than Ronald Reagan was when he took office? As Mark Twain — another old gaffer — once said, “Youth is wasted on the young,” and we’ll make sure we have One of Ours like Mike Huckabee or Gary Bauer as vice president just in case.
Republicans are fully capable of rationalizing anything as long as it serves their goal of achieving the permanent Republican majority. After all, they were able to convince themselves and five justices of the Supreme Court that a vacant, vapid, and malaprop-prone scion of a rich family — the Sonny Drysdale of American politics — was the best choice to be president, and they’ve been defending that decision ever since. As for their principles, they are the embodiment of what Groucho Marx once said: “Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”
So armed with the knowledge that they can pretty much get away with anything and rationalize it to a fare-thee-well, the Republican attack machine will go into full operation regardless of who their nominee is and how much they have to hold their nose to promote him. And let there be no doubt whatsoever that once the conservatives get over their hissy-fit about John McCain, they will unleash their full fury on whoever the Democratic nominee is. It does not matter if it’s Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, or Teddy the Wonder Lizard; the conservatives’ principles are maleable enough and they are desperate enough to cling to power that they would unite behind Hugo Chavez if he could run as a Republican and there would be some assurance that he could win the election and solve the energy crisis at the same time with cheap oil from Venezuela.