It may be that sensible Republican voters are rebelling against McCain-bashing orthodox conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, etc. But to write a column dismissing those figures for "emphasizing a host of small-bore litmus tests" and not even mention the major policy conflict over immigration seems like intellectual cowardice verging on dishonesty--or else really bad editing by the NYT. ... Not quite like attacking Eugene McCarthy for challenging LBJ and not mentioning Vietnam. But close. ...
It was the editing, actually - but on my part, not the NYT's. In the original draft of the piece, instead of just noting that the movement establishment is right about certain issues and McCain is wrong, I actually enumerated some of those issues - including McCain-Feingold and embryo-destructive stem cell research as well as immigration. But I thought that given the contours of the intra-conservative debate, it made more sense for the op-ed to stick to the question of why many conservative voters didn't listen to their supposed spokesmen, which meant emphasizing what's been wrong with the right-wing response to McCain and Huckabee - both the narrowness of many of the litmus tests being imposed (the Gang of 14, waterboarding, etc.) and the tone of the attacks, from Limbaugh's claim that nominating either man would "destroy" the GOP to the Coulters and Dobsons saying they won't vote for McCain against a Democrat to the widespread and ridiculous claims that Mike Huckabee is a "Christian socialist" - rather than listing the issues on which I agree with Limbaugh et. al.
I would also note that as the last of the DLC Democrats, Kaus is (for understandable reasons) primarily interested in the GOP as a vehicle for holding his own party's feet to the fire on a few specific issues, immigration chief among them. But from within the conservative tent, where the immigration debate is just one part of a larger pantomime, things look rather different. And whereas I suspect that Kaus would be happy to see the GOP turn into a Limbaugh-led rump, so long as it somehow moved the immigration debate in a restrictionist direction, that's a future I'd prefer to avoid. Moreover, even from a Kaus-ian point of view I think the style of the right-wing attacks on McCain has been self-defeating. A focused critique that stuck to his immigration position, I suspect, would have done far more damage to his political viability - and/or forced him into more specific concessions than he's actually made - than the sweeping and implausible attempt to read him out of American conservatism entirely.
All of that said, though, in hindsight I think Kaus is right about the op-ed. Regular readers of this blog know that I think the GOP should remain to McCain's right on the immigration, as will readers - if there are any - of my and Reihan's forthcoming book. (We even quote Mickey Kaus!) But a Times op-ed reaches a different audience, and serves a different purpose, and thus it should have mentioned my views on the subject, if only to lay down a marker regarding which right-wing attacks I think McCain should ignore, and which he needs to address with meaningful concessions. So, mea culpa.
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