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GOP Congressional Disasters: The "McCain Effect"

May 26, 2008

For nearly the last four decades, a consistent pattern has been established in the Republican political arena, whereby both good and bad fortunes can be directly correlated to the overt conservatism, or the lack thereof, in the party. The more conservative the party and its candidates are, the better they do on Election Day. Conversely, as GOP members seek "common ground" with liberal Democrat rivals, their prospects at the ballot box diminish.

Republicans ignore this relationship at their own peril. Yet it appears that they are about to do so once again as they go into the 2008 general election season. The two dismal defeats in the recent Alabama and Mississippi congressional special elections should be construed as a warning sign, but thus far, the party seems intent on critically misinterpreting them. So more calamities are likely to follow.

That such a simple and reliable pattern of cause and effect can be so casually refuted or ignored by the party hierarchy is a testimony to the power of the liberal press to mischaracterize events, as well as a grim reflection of the corrupting effects of the Washington environment where truth, right, and reality are utterly flexible, to be defined by the latest public opinion polls.

Having enjoyed past successes only in those situations where Republicans have effectively contrasted their conservatism against the transparent liberalism of the Democrats, some may wonder just why they would ever think they could instead play by Democrat rules. In order to understand the aspects of the political landscape that often spell doom for Republicans, the inherent differences between the parties, their foundations, and their current compositions need to be properly understood.

The structure of the current Democrat party is a conglomeration of numerous, and often completely disparate special interest groups. It is of secondary consequence that these groups may often conflict or even oppose each other, since their political support from the Democrat Party most often manifests itself as access to the public trough.

Thus, with few exceptions, the leadership of these organizations are chiefly indifferent to the fact that another constituency within the party's voting base might be receiving largess even though its goals and purposes conflict with the first. The government has plenty of pork to go around.

From its inception, the Republican Party has fundamentally differed in this respect. It instead coalesced its members around a series of principles and ideals, interwoven into a complex "tapestry" that requires intellectual and philosophical consistency in order to function or survive. Thus, the Republican Party has far less latitude to pursue opposing courses if it is to maintain any sense of coherence. And, every time its leaders lose touch with this actuality, the party's standing slips precipitously in the eyes of the public.

As a result, while aspiring Democrat candidates can associate themselves with their party leaders (even someone carrying as much political baggage as Barack Obama), while still maintaining their own perceived identities on issues of importance to their constituencies, Republicans are assumed to be politically joined at the hip with their party leadership. Such a prospect bodes particularly ill these days, given that the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee and default "party leader," is John McCain.

Congressional candidates Don Cazayoux (D.-LA) and Travis Childers (D.-MS) could thus credibly present themselves to the voters as "conservatives" despite enjoying close ties to Barack Obama. Both won their states' special election. Republicans, on the other hand, who attempt to ride McCain's tenuous "coattails" severely undermine their reputations as conservatives.

This is an option that they simply cannot choose without reaping a severe backlash in the wake of every McCain gaffe and pander to the left. So stark is the contrast between the operation of the two parties that unless GOP candidates actually distance themselves from McCain (and few if any are willing to do so) they will risk being tainted by every past and present betrayal of conservatism by the Arizona Senator.

At this crucial time in the nation's course, an ambiguous and diluted platform from the Republican Party will serve no useful purpose, either for the party's sake, or that of the nation. Yet by the character of its presumptive leader John McCain, the GOP appears to be stumbling into just such a morass. Worst of all, as a result of the two recent losses, Republican Party leaders are actually being cowed into believing the flawed premise that their party's candidates were dispatched for being overly conservative.

Such a conclusion and reaction is altogether astounding, considering that in both Congressional elections, the Democrat opponents were avowed "conservatives," and clearly connected with the voters on that basis. Yet the signs that Republican Party bigwigs are now expressing their openness to the idea of shifting the party even further left (the very action that caused severe voter backlash in 2006, and the party's current unpopularity), are alarmingly numerous.

Just this past week, Republican Deputy Whip Eric Cantor suggested as much, claiming that McCain "is a demonstrated vote getter among independents." House Minority Leader John Boehner erroneously concluded that McCain "appeals to almost all Republicans," suggesting a possibility that the rest of the party may drift further from its conservative roots in order to better align itself with McCain's seeming appeal to the "middle."

In truth, neither of the recent races proves any such thing. Rather, they suggest that the American public, which was once inspired by the audacity of a truly conservative message, has since concluded that the GOP will never deliver on it. The prominence of John McCain and his message of acquiescence and accommodation of the left only proves that a fight to put Republicans in office will do little to further the conservative cause.

As was the case in 1992 when Bill Clinton took the White House with only forty three percent of the vote, the current political winds suggest nothing of a Democrat surge, so much as a total disillusionment with the "me too" wing of the Republican Party.

In an ironic twist, McCain himself may yet prove to be immune to this effect though he is the primary force motivating it. And this is not owing to any political prowess on his part, but only to the obvious radicalism of his likely Democrat opponent. Having now been revealed to the public for who he really is, no amount of political posturing and backtracking can detach Barack Obama from the far-left fringe of the Democrat Party.

Yet as defeated Republicans Woody Jenkins and Greg Davis learned in the two special elections, one cannot count on every Democrat opponent carrying the sort of baggage weighing down Obama. A believably "conservative" Democrat poses a formidable rival to a Republican whose party has clouded and, to an appalling degree, abandoned its once inspiring conservative message.

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Copyright ©2008 Christopher G. Adamo

Christopher G. Adamo is a resident of southeastern Wyoming and has been involved in state and local politics for many years. He writes for several prominent conservative websites, and has written for regional and national magazines. He is currently the Chief Editorial Writer for The Proud Americans, an advocacy group for America’s seniors, and for all Americans. His contact information and article archives can be found at www.chrisadamo.com, and he can be followed on Twitter @CGAdamo.