Meghan McCain on Biden's Hyde flip-flop: "I feel slighted as someone who was open to him being president"

Interesting choice of the past tense there. Sooooo … no McCain family endorsement then, or what?

Her point here is well taken, and in fact I made a version of it myself on Friday. Why would Biden pander to the left on Hyde knowing that he’ll never be the left’s top choice? You can’t out-progressive Bernie Sanders, says Meg, so why try? Stick to the center instead. But let me play devil’s advocate: Sometimes candidates need to pander to their base even if everyone involved knows it’s insincere. Look no further than Trump, a guy who’s been sold since the day he announced his candidacy in 2015 as the ultimate straight-talking tell-it-like-it-is anti-politician. He’s brash, he’s bold — he’ll give you his unvarnished view and never dream of apologizing for it.

But that’s nonsense. Trump is a hardcore base-panderer on all of the right’s tribal cultural sensitivities. Is an ex-Democrat TV star who was born and raised in New York City, became (in)famous for enjoying the good life, and indicated virtually no knowledge of and little interest in religion until he ran for president actually strongly pro-life, pro-gun, and cool to LGBT rights? Of course not. God only knows how he really feels about those issues, and God only knows how the average evangelical Christian Republican voter imagines how Trump really feels about those issues. But he had the basic good sense when he ran for the GOP nomination to grasp which issues he could cross the base on and which he couldn’t. At best, his right-wing orthodoxy on social issues is sincere; at worst, it’s a tacit bargain with cultural conservatives that he’ll govern their way on “values” matters if they let him govern his way on the stuff he really cares about, i.e. protectionism and isolationism.

Biden’s sending the same signal with his Hyde flip-flop. He’s saying to the left that even if they find his newfound opposition to the amendment insincere, which it is, they’re not taking a risk on key cultural sensitivities by electing him. He’s not going to go full Bernie on economics (I think) but he’ll throw progressives a bone on abortion to show them that he’ll govern the way they want on matters that are “beyond politics,” so to speak. Also, this must be borne in mind: Although the conventional wisdom has it that leftists despise Biden, polling shows that it’s just not true. Whether by dint of pure name recognition or for more substantive reasons, he’s highly competitive among self-described “liberals” in surveys. He actually led Bernie Sanders, 25/24, among that group in CNN’s latest. In Quinnipiac’s recent poll of Texas, Biden was second among self-described “very liberal” Democrats, trailing Elizabeth Warren and ahead of Bernie again by a point. He really might have damaged himself in the competition for those voters if he’d stuck with Hyde. Whereas centrist Dems who may have preferred that he stuck with Hyde find themselves today in a tough position: Until Beto or Klobuchar or some other “moderate” shows signs of breaking out, Biden’s the only game in town.

As much as I admire Meg’s commitment to the pro-life cause, the reality is that if we end up with a Trump/Biden race abortion will matter only in the accustomed way, as a subsidiary issue in considering which Supreme Court appointments each candidate might make. The Hyde Amendment isn’t going anywhere until Democrats have total control of government again, and maybe not even then. By the time we get to the general election, the country will be consumed by the many wounds Biden’s record sustained during the primaries and the many, many new petty outrages Trump will have committed between now and then. McCain’s not going to passively endorse four more years of Trump by staying home just because Uncle Joe took a new position on a law that’s not going to change anyway.