By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
Say what you want about Meghan McCain, the girl knows how to grab a headline.
Speaking Saturday to the Log Cabin Republicans, McCain pronounced her belief that the GOP is too far behind the times to be relevant to the American electorate.
"I feel too many Republicans want to cling to past successes," the 23-year-old McCain said. "There are those who think we can win the White House and Congress back by being 'more' conservative. Worse, there are those who think we can win by changing nothing at all about what our party has become. They just want to wait for the other side to be perceived as worse than us."
Following a similarly, for the GOP, disastrous election in 1974, when there were plenty of senior Republicans counseling the need for a shift to the left in the post-Watergate era, Ronald Reagan urged the need to offer voters "bold colors, not pale pastels."
By this he meant voters needed, even wanted to hear the Republicans offer a clear, bold vision for the future that was in sharp contrast on the key issues of the time to what the Democrats were promising America. Or, to put it as Phyllis Schlafly did in her 1964 book in support of Barry Goldwater, the American electorate needed to be given "A choice, not an echo."
McCain's thesis, which runs counter to what Reagan and Schlafly advised, also ignores the electoral evidence that has built up over nearly 30 years. In her remarks, she makes it rather clear that she believes the path back to power for the Republicans is for them to adopt positions that are more closely aligned with the positions taken by the Democrats. Unfortunately, and what she seems to miss, is that the GOP just tried that in the 2008 election—with her father at the top of the ticket—and we all know how that worked out.
To the extent that the McCain campaign offered anything, it was the idea that its candidate was more experienced and ready to be president than Barack Obama. But, because McCain could not effectively explain why that mattered, or how that experience would make a difference, the voters were not persuaded that McCain was offering anything superior to Obama's call for "change."
The political issues on which Meghan McCain urges moderation are some of the very issues that the GOP used successfully to realign the electorate in the 1980s and 1990s and which played a major role in winning the White House for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. Ms. McCain, for example, urges acceptance of gay marriage—as now does McCain campaign manager Steve Schmidt. But they forget that it was state-based efforts in defense of the traditional definition of marriage that helped Bush beat Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts in 2004. And that there has been no place, at least none that I can find, where the pro-gay marriage position has triumphed when put to a vote of the people. In fact, it was just a few years ago, after the Vermont legislature voted to approve civil unions, that the GOP took over the state House of Representatives in the electoral backlash. And I expect to see a similar outcome after its approval of gay marriage over a gubernatorial veto earlier this month.
"I think we're seeing a war brewing in the Republican Party, but it is not between us and Democrats," Ms. McCain told the Log Cabin Republican Convention. "It is not between us and liberals. It is between the future and the past." She's welcome to try, but I think the real issue is for the party to return to its Reaganite, limited-government roots. And the close to 1 million, by some estimates, people who turned out for last Wednesday's national tax day tea parties seem to agree. They were quite clear they believe they are being taxed, spent, regulated, and borrowed to death by the federal government. And so my advice to Ms. McCain, and to those folks who think she might be right, is to focus on issues that unite us, like taxes and spending, not those that divide us, and then try to prove you know how to win an election or two before telling everyone else what their agendas should be.
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