Monday, March 10, 2008

McCain Makes His Pitch to Conservatives

by William J. Murray
(March 7, 2008 – New Orleans, LA) Shortly after obtaining enough delegates to claim the 2008 Republican nomination for the presidency, John McCain spoke at the luncheon for a premier conservative group, the Council on National Policy (CNP). He had about 40 minutes to win over both economic and social conservatives who had huge differences with him on policy, as defined by his voting record in the Senate and public pronouncements. Among these is his willingness to interfere with freedom of speech (McCain-Feingold) and also to give amnesty to millions of illegals in the United States. His relationship with the Deity is also questioned by many social conservatives. (Photo above William and Nancy Murray with Senator McCain in 2006)

McCain decided to show he could take on the critics by speaking for only ten minutes and opening the balance of his time to questions. This was a mistake on his part. While he departed the stage thinking he did well, those in attendance including myself felt otherwise. On immigration he said he wanted to secure the border, but that is not what his voting record indicates is his true policy. On issues from abortion to basic economic policy he told those present to look at his record, which, unfortunately for him, they have done.

Then he was asked about his relationship with God. The question was asked in such a manner that it would have allowed a man of faith to preach a message that would have won any atheist in the crowd to Christ. Instead of answering with a personal message of faith, he actually gave the faith testimony of another man. While McCain himself surely thought the answer was a knockout punch for the crowd, it actually left those of faith wondering exactly what his point was.

Rather than talking of his own faith he told of a time while he was a prisoner in North Viet Nam, when a guard loosened the ropes that bound him during the guard’s shift. The guard then retied the bonds before departing. He said he wondered why the guard had shown him kindness. At Christmas time that year the guard silently drew a cross in the dirt in front of McCain’s cell, smiled and then erased the cross so that other guards would not see it. The message ended at that point, with no statement as to how this affected him personally or in his relationship with the Lord. This left the listeners, all with a sort of “and then” look on their faces, waiting for a conclusion that just never came. The McCain campaign had actually made a Christmas commercial using the same theme in December of 2007.

Other than a few conservative Jews, the CNP membership is for the most part evangelicals and conservative Catholics who are also economic conservatives. In other words, the group is overwhelmingly made up of men and women of faith. Some members of CNP such as myself, are the leaders of social conservative organizations. In conversations after the event most agreed that is was impossible to tell from John McCain’s remarks if he indeed had a personal relationship with the Lord. Of course, that does not mean that he does not. It does mean that he has great difficulty in publically acknowledging a relationship with the Lord.

During his remarks John McCain talked about a time when he was campaigning with George W. Bush in 2000, when they were on a bus together and people lined the streets in the rain jumping up and down with enthusiasm. He said, “We have to restore that kind of enthusiasm in our party.” The problem is that he said nothing during the luncheon speech that would generate that kind of enthusiasm amongst conservatives. His presentation consisted of the same canned remarks he made in 2000 that lost him the nomination to George W. Bush. His rhetoric about eliminating earmarks while lowering taxes and keeping America strong is the solid 1980’s and 1990’s rhetoric that kept the GOP in power. Unfortunately for John McCain, it is no longer the 20th century and there are new problems facing this nation, such as the transfer of wealth to Islamic nation that has left the dollar at about 60% of the value of the Euro. Debt has become a burdensome part of the federal budget as it has for the average American. Oil was at $106 a barrel the day McCain spoke to the group and he did not mention it as an addressable problem.

His address to the CNP offered no assurances to social conservatives that would cause them to give his campaign the same enthusiastic support as evangelicals gave Mike Huckabee; and I put myself forth as an example. I personally raised about $70,000 for Mike Huckabee’s campaign. The political action committee I head also made independent expenditures for advertising and direct marketing of over $60,000 on behalf of Mike Huckabee during the primary. I flew to New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida to help the Huckabee campaigns in those states. I flew to Texas the day I knew Mike would be forced to drop out of the race to stand by his side as did many of his closest supporters. No one dumped Mike Huckabee, not even at the bitter end. None of that kind of support has translated to John McCain and probably will not. After the Huckabee withdrawal, Evangelicals, mad at their leaders for supporting Mormon Mitt Romney and marginal Catholic Rudy Giuliani, packed up their bags and went home rather than to the McCain tent.

Can McCain win the activists back and get evangelicals to jump up and down in the rain for him? That is possible, but it will take more than “… look at my record” and “… he drew a cross in the dirt” to convince social conservatives to do more than hold their nose and vote for him in November, knowing Clinton and Obama are worse alternatives. Rather than being enthusiastic for McCain, most activists see him as the lesser of two evils to choose from in November.

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