Some have accused MadisonConservative, myself, and others of having devoted too much attention to Sarah Palin’s endorsement of John McCain, but MC is right to attach “considerable” importance to Palin’s positions, since, as he says, “people throughout the blogosphere have been casting Palin as the new face of conservatism.”  I’d add:  It’s not only in the blogosphere.  As for McCain, many still consider him the Republican Party’s leader.

So, yeah, MC’s right – Palin endorsing McCain does “stink” – but only if you were hoping that she would lend her charisma exclusively to the cause of rigorously pure conservatism.


MC and I are not far apart on the most politically relevant points, even though this agreement leads us to different conclusions. Before anyone reads the wrong things into these differences, however, there are some policy questions that need to be cleared up.

MC concedes that there’s little daylight between McCain and Palin on foreign policy, and he’s happy to set aside possible post-Campaign ’08 hard feelings (“her business”). It’s on domestic policy that differences seem to arise, but I think MC partly mischaracterizes them, and otherwise exaggerates their importance:

  1. Immigration: MC links to a recent FoxNews interview in which Palin unambiguously states her support for McCain’s current “position on immigration.” Though inveterate McCain skeptics may be unwilling to credit a shift in his approach that’s as old as the ’08 campaign, we should be clear that what Palin is supporting is a “border security first” approach. MC calls determining what Palin really means a “tough call.” I disagree: She says she supports McCain’s position. If he diverges, he’ll presumably have to “answer to Sarah,” and, if she fails to call him out, it will harm her credibility. That’s implied in any endorsement.
  2. Global warming/Energy: I believe MC misstates the differences between Palin and McCain on GW issues. When MC claims that “McCain and Obama get along swimmingly” on Cap and Trade, he ignores the fact that McCain has been a fierce critic of Obama’s program from the day it was introduced. McCain may, for instance, have been the first to dub it “Cap and Tax.” MC also forgets the softer/squishier pre-ClimateGate remarks that Palin made over the course of years on Global Warming-based policy, clearly intended to make it easier for AGW believers to support her. Post-ClimateGate, she’s become much more vocal in her skepticism. As for ANWR, differences on the subject are very old news. They didn’t prevent Palin from running with McCain, and haven’t prevented her from recycling lines like “all of the above approach” and “drill, baby, drill” from her and McCain’s joint Campaign ’08 platform.
  3. Gay marriage: McCain and Palin are both opponents. They may differ on the wisdom of passing a “Defense of Marriage” amendment now, but even McCain, who opposed a constitutional amendment in 2004, has for years been saying that he would support it if the Defense of Marriage Act were overturned. Does anyone see this secondary/tactical difference as likely to determine many elections this year – even a primary election on the GOP side?
  4. Evolution: In what election anywhere in America other than for school board are the particulars of beliefs on this issue of importance? McCain apparently believes in evolution + God. Palin seems to believe in God + evolution. MC: “Some may say it’s a minor issue, but it’s seemed important to Sarah Palin.” She’s responded when others have brought the topic up, and she discussed her beliefs in her book. Has anyone heard her bring it up on her own in any political context?

…and that’s about it from MC on policy, though at other points both he and other commenters have brought up other issues, especially (5) Campaign Finance Reform (CFR). I don’t recall and couldn’t find a detailed statement of Palin’s on McCain-Feingold, though I believe that, like Fred Thompson (who co-sponsored it in the Senate), she expressed support for the good intention of cleaning up politics (since the 19th Century a typical progressive focus, incidentally). Palin had her own personal experience of campaigning for and helping to implement progressive-style political reforms – the Alaska ethics laws – that, despite good intentions, seemed to backfire on her.  So she may sympathize with McCain. Anyway, with the Supreme Court having gutted McCain-Feingold legally, and with the Obama ’08 campaign having blown apart many of its presumptions, it’s hard to imagine a deader letter, or any reason why it should influence Palin’s decision-making on McCain vs Hayworth.

In sum, Palin and McCain are very close in one major area – foreign policy – and easily close enough for government work on the other issues MC points to. Most important, they’re together on the major unifying conservative issues the 2010 campaigns – debt, deficits, ObamaCare, DC elitism/corruption – issues on which McCain has been and remains a leading spokesperson.  On the Conflict Formerly Known as the War on Terror, any potential differences – over, say, closing Gitmo – have been buried by joint opposition to elements of the Obama approach.

Moreover, like Mitt Romney and others who have endorsed McCain, Palin wouldn’t need a personal bond, debt of gratitude, or perfect agreement to conclude that putting the Arizona Senate seat at risk, losing a” lion of the Senate,” creating or widening rifts within the party, and opening the Republicans to a “they’ve gone crazy with ideology” narrative would interfere with job #1: Defeating Obamacrats.

Some have focused on JD Hayworth’s flaws as a candidate, but, in trying to justify Palin’s endorsement, you don’t need to destroy Hayworth unless you despise McCain. Palin focused almost entirely on McCain’s positives in her endorsement statement, with only a glancing, implicit reference to Hayworth in her conclusion::

In 2008, I firmly believed that John McCain was the right man for America. Today, I know he’s the right man for Arizona. Your state deserves more than rhetoric; you deserve a leader with a real record of accomplishment. That’s why, on behalf of Sen. McCain, I’m asking for your vote. For the good of our entire country and the future of your state, please send John McCain back to the United States Senate.

The only reason not to take her at her word is to deny the evidence that she actually is closer to McCain than anti-McCain conservatives want to acknowledge.


I therefore both disagree and agree with MC’s conclusions. I don’t think he’s justified his description of McCain and Palin as “at odds all over the place,” but I think he’s right to question whether Sarah Palin is a “strong conservative,” if by that he means a committed ideologue. She clearly possesses many strongly conservative impulses and core beliefs, but her approach to politics is at least as pragmatic as it is ideological. In that way, she’s an authentic conservative in an American mode, putting concrete results above any idle search for absolute political right and wrong. Since I consider the combination of the two political impulses, under whatever names, to be both desirable and inevitable, I applaud SP’s having offered support and encouragement across the conservative spectrum, from Scott Brown to Doug Hoffman and maybe even Rand Paul. It’s good for her and good for us.

In disagreeing with me strongly on this analysis, MadisonConservative is far from alone on the right. He’s probably closer to the majority view at HotAir (at least among those highly interested in immigration policy). I welcome the continuing debate with him and those who agree with him. As for those who don’t welcome the discussion, I wonder what they think HotAir is for – endless recitation of “true conservative” principles, all dissenters shamed and silenced?

Far as I can tell, it ain’t that kind of place, never has been, from the top down and the bottom up, and I’m happy with that, too.

cross-posted at Zombie Contentions

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