Many a high-five was exchanged in the hallways of Salon Conservatives Club this morning over this passage from McCain’s Liberty Medal speech last night. And I’d bet many a high-five was exchanged in the Breitbart offices too. The nice thing about being a populist is that you win no matter how the establishment reacts to you. If McCain gave a speech extolling the virtues of nationalism, great! Steve Bannon could cite that as proof that his ideas are making inroads in Washington and bending powerful Republicans to his side. If McCain gave a speech taking a dump on nationalism, which is just what he did yesterday, great! The contempt of a crusty old RINO disliked by much of the base is a valuable recruiting tool, proof that nationalism is the way to go. My enemy’s disdain is a badge of honor and evidence that I’m on the right track.
Which, actually, is just how Rush reacted to the Salon conservatives piece.
I don’t want to scold Maverick when he’s having a “lion in winter” moment here, and he’s right about nationalism’s appetite for scapegoats. (Which is why it tends to turn into ethno-nationalism.) But let me gently suggest that we might not be having this nationalist moment in the first place if not for some of the excesses of the Republican establishment best exemplified by McCain himself. A party with a white working-class base that fears outsourcing isn’t ideally suited to support a gigantic amnesty of America’s illegal immigrant population, yet McCain took three hard stabs at that between 2006 and 2013 — twice hand in hand with Ted Kennedy, of all people. A blue-collar party that’s suspicious of experts and resentful of gigantic federal spending abroad instead of at home isn’t going to react well when a massive nation-building project in the Middle East led by the best and brightest goes sideways, yet the party’s had no more ardent interventionist over the past 15 years than McCain. Even his habit of playing to the media (“my base,” McCain jokingly calls them) is a bad fit for a party whose actual base feels that the national media not only works against their interests but views them with scorn. Trump’s ascendance is complicated but there’s a reason he paid no price politically on the right for his disgusting comments about McCain’s captivity in Vietnam in 2015. Maverick and other Senate dinosaurs have been alienated from grassroots Republicans for a long time.
Anyway, I wouldn’t count on his vote for tax reform. McCain, you may remember, voted against the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003. He has no electoral or personal reason to vote for any new tax cuts to help out a president whom he loathes. And it sounds like Trump may make it even easier for him to vote no soon.