Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Conservative Talk Radio and John McCain

Here's a good column by Jeffrey Lord titled, Sean Hannity is Right
The "McCain problem" is not talk radio. Listening Thursday evening as I drove through Washington after day one of CPAC I tuned into Mark Levin's show. In paint-peeling language, Levin, a former Reagan-era colleague, ran through McCain's problems in terms of his record. What else should Levin be doing? Anyone who has ever crossed paths with him -- and I have -- knows Mark Levin to be one very, very smart guy. He is nothing if not devoted to principle, and in fact has spent a considerable part of his life living for the conservative cause.

It simply is not his job as a talk show host to elect McCain or anyone else president. He has made it his job -- his life -- to talk and write and fight for conservative principles. What amazes with the McFarlane criticism is the notion that if Levin -- or Hannity or Rush or Laura -- would somehow just shut up, McCain's problem would somehow go away.

Some Straight Talk here. If talk radio fell mute this minute, McCain's problem would still exist.A case in point appeared the very next day at CPAC itself. Floating around the hotel the day after Levin's latest scorching was the new issue of the National Journal, a decidedly mainstream media publication that is most assuredly not a journal of conservatism. The cover article featured a story about McCain by Kirk Victor, the Journal's longtime Senate reporter. Victor's story was titled "The Right Stuff?" Notice the question mark. In the quiet language of traditional Capitol Hill print journalism, Victor was saying almost exactly what Levin was saying in his more flamboyant, talk radio fashion. It pointedly referred to McCain's "put-up-your-dukes" demeanor, and even more troubling for McCain's relationship with conservatives, produced a chart tracking the Arizonan's conservative ranking in the Senate since his arrival in 1987.

According to Victor's story, McCain's best year as a conservative came in 1994, when he was ranked the 8th most conservative among all Senators. By 2004, he had fallen to 49th, with rankings of 45 and 46 respectively for 2005 and 2006. No ranking was available for 2007. The 2004 ranking, Victor says, tied McCain with the GOP's famously liberal Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, with only two liberal Republicans further to the left, Maine's Olympia Snowe and Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee. Chafee, of course, faced a primary challenge from a conservative in 2006 and then lost to a Democrat in the fall. He has now announced that he is leaving the Republican Party.

Conservatives across America clearly have some sort of sense of McCain that corresponds with the essence of Victor's story, even if they have not seen it -- and with the Internet being what it is doubtless it is already everywhere. In other words, the problem for McCain is not talk radio hosts anymore than it is mainstream reporters covering the Senate. The problem is McCain's record.
Conservatives have not invented their disagreements with John McCain. McCain has actively worked to irritate conservatives and now McCain needs their support. At this point, I lean towards staying neutral in a McCain versus Obama or McCain versus Clinton presidential race.