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Jewish World Review Feb. 14, 2000/ 8 Adar I, 5760

Charles Krauthammer

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A Winner? Yes -- WHAT'S A CONSERVATIVE to do? The country has gone into a swoon over John McCain. But conservative suspicions about him run deep

The complaints were neatly summarized by Martin Anderson, Ronald Reagan's domestic policy adviser, in the Manchester Union Leader of Jan. 20. First, McCain does nothing to reduce marginal tax rates, the hallmark of Reaganomics. Second, his campaign finance ideas would cut off the oxygen that allows any group to enter the public debate, leaving the field to the tender liberal mercies of the labor unions and the media.

Third, and most alarming, is the identity of those who have climbed into McCain's bed. The man, claims Anderson, is loved by Warren Beatty, Gary Hart, Mike Wallace and the liberal press.

Well, so what?

There is no doubt that George W. Bush is the more reliably conservative candidate--orthodox on taxes, conventionally Republican on campaign finance, unloved by liberals. But the relevant point is that the political distance between McCain and Bush is far smaller than the political distance between either of them and Al Gore. And the principal political objective for conservatism is to put an end to Clintonism. That can only be done with victory. The real question is: Who is more likely to win in November?

Sure, McCain promises to make Warren Rudman attorney general. And Rudman is the man who (along with John Sununu) persuaded Bush Sr. to appoint Justice David Souter, their gift to American liberalism.

But whom do you think Gore will make attorney general? And whom will he appoint to the Supreme Court? What kind of expansion of government spending and extension of federal reach will he undertake, as compared with a Republican, any Republican? Gore calls the automobile "a mortal threat . . . more deadly than that of any military enemy we are ever again likely to confront." Can conservatives risk his election because his most dynamic challenger is content with the current income tax rate?

I hear the same complaint regarding Rudy Giuliani, who plays the orthodox New York liberal tune on gay rights, gun control and partial-birth abortion. I have news for my purist conservative friends: Even if there were not a dime's worth of difference between Giuliani and Hillary Clinton on the issues (and there is plenty: on crime, regulation, the homeless, taxes, etc.), there is something larger at stake: a governing philosophy. Hillary! (her newest name) is, like Gore, heir and successor to Clintonism, a poll-driven politics of rank cynicism, reflexive mendacity and pious indignation at the vast conspiracies arrayed against their righteousness.

What could be more important than putting a stake through that?


Which Republican is more likely to beat Gore? The unhappy fact is that George W. has shown himself to be weak in debate, ambivalent in spirit and tentative in his grasp of the issues.

To be sure, he does not deserve the abuse that has been heaped upon him post-New Hampshire. He is a first-timer in the presidential field, doing no worse than, say, Al Gore his first time around.

Nonetheless, McCain is the one Republican with passion, flair and obvious appeal to non-conservatives and non-Republicans. He is the reason Bill Bradley is gasping for air: McCain stole his constituency from under him.

Conservatives would naturally be happier with George W.'s policies. But you don't get to do policy unless you do politics--winning politics. The question for Republicans is not who will make the better president but who is more likely to be president. One can see McCain, with his biography, his energy and his zeal, winning in November. It is hard to see how George W. does it.

There is, however, a way to ease the choice, square the circle, and reconcile McCain's insurgent centrism with Bush's establishment conservatism. Put them on the same ticket: McCain-Bush.

Of course, because everyone expected Bush to be on top, he might consider second spot humiliating. But seen objectively, it should not be. He is a young man. Indeed, he is younger than his father was when he accepted the vice presidency 20 years ago. He is a presidential campaign freshman. He has served barely more than a term as governor. If not for the fact that he was so prematurely, and oddly, anointed with cash and hailed as king, he would be a natural and attractive No. 2.

McCain-Bush would mark a reconciliation of the Republican establishment with the McCain insurgency. It would fuse the party's base to McCain's independents. Sure, it would unmoor some conservatives and infuriate others. But it has this singular virtue: It would

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02/07/00: Politics in a Golden Age
01/31/00: Why Elian Should Stay
01/21/00: A Network Sellout . . .
01/14/00: Screwball Psychologizing
01/07/00: Desperately Seeking a legacy: Peace of the Anti-Semites
12/10/99: Born to Run
12/03/99: Keep Bubba home --- and his mouth shut
11/29/99: Not for Moi, Thanks
11/19/99: Where's the 2000 Buzz?
11/12/99: Reluctant Cold Warriors
11/08/99: Federalism's New Friends
10/29/99: The Phony Battle Against 'Isolationism'
10/25/99: Still With the Soul Of a Candidate
10/18/99: Nixon On the Couch
10/11/99: Slouching Toward The Center

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