McCain calls for GOP to drop social issues (in other news, water still wet)

Yesterday, Republican Sen. John McCain suggested to Fox News’s Chris Wallace that it might be time to drop those pesky social issues:

WALLACE: Does your party need to change, especially in its outreach with those groups, on social issues like same sex marriage, on immigration reform?

MCCAIN: I think we have to have a bigger tent. That’s – no doubt about it […] And as far as young women are concerned, absolutely – I don’t think anybody like me, I can state my position on abortion, but, to – other than that, leave the issue alone when we are in the kind of economic situation and, frankly, national security situation we’re in.

WALLACE: When you say leave the issue alone, you would allow, you’d say, freedom of choice?

MCCAIN: I would allow people to have those opinions and respect those opinions. I’m proud of my pro-life position and record. But if someone disagrees with me, I respect your views.

Yes, because John McCain’s approach to winning the White House worked so well last time around.

Like most seasoned politicians, his answer is a bit evasive – at the end, he swaps Wallace’s word “choice” for “opinion.” Well, yes, Senator, we “allow people to have” all sorts of abhorrent opinions. It’s perfectly legal to think whatever you want about fetuses, blacks, Jews, gays, women, Muslims, immigrants, etc., but the real question is what the law lets you do to those groups. And on that point, the rest of McCain’s answer gives the unmistakable impression that he would indeed abandon the unborn.

Sigh. What a departure from the man who proclaimed in 2008, “I am pro-life because I know what it is like to live without human rights,” referring to the five years he spent in a North Vietnamese prison camp.

Or is it? McCain’s voting record is pro-life on balance, but there are a lot of failing grades in there, and it’s an issue that’s often lost out to his greater passion: getting Democrats to like him. During his previous presidential run, he told reporters that “it’s not social issues I care about,” and Sen. Rick Santorum reveals that McCain often sided against introducing pro-life legislation because it was too “divisive.”

So it’s hard to see anything other than partisan opportunism in those suggesting that this reflects some deep need for Republican moderation. John McCain doesn’t need an occasion to advocate a pivot to the middle.

Yes, the GOP took a beating on abortion this year, but not because they opposed it; they suffered because they let the Democrats define what their opposition meant. On the substance, there was no reason for abortion to be Republican Kryptonite. Mitt Romney’s stance was well within the American mainstream, while Barack Obama’s “any time, any reason, at taxpayer expense” one wasn’t. Obama should have been the one constantly on defense.

But when Democrats spun professional drama queen Sandra Fluke’s testimony and the rhetorical blunders of two pro-life senators into an imaginary “war on women,” Team Romney thought dismissing it as a distraction from the economy would suffice, instead of confronting the narrative head-on, explaining its distortions, and forcefully offering an alternate, truer narrative.

Taking stances acceptable to the public isn’t enough; a winning candidate also has to get across a certain level of comfort and confidence in his own convictions. When one side is accusing someone of all kinds of scary things, and the target doesn’t even want to talk about the accusations, it leaves the impression that there’s something to it the public should be scared of. That’s why, despite a majority of Americans reaffirming in August that they’d ban most abortions, after the election, a majority identified themselves as pro-choice: Republicans let the opposition define what “pro-life” and “pro-choice” mean.

Politicians like Romney take the right positions but screw up the follow-through, and politicians like McCain take that as evidence that the positions themselves were the problem. How about we try standing on principle and making the case for it, and see what happens?

  • “Mitt Romney’s stance was well within the American mainstream”

    Your link (to your own column!) doesn’t have anything to say about Romney’s positions nor what might constitute “American mainstream”; it merely tabulates what you construe as interesting polling results, including data from two shops — Gallup and Rasmussen — that just got their asses embarrassingly handed to them for misreading the electorate. In any event, the construct of the “mainstream” isn’t pegged to polling data, so the numbers become a little irrelevant and I therefore suppose you could argue that Romney’s abortion positions sit somewhere inside a “mainstream” (I wouldn’t buy it; he was the first and only presidential candidate to run on the destruction of Planned Parenthood). But if you go to the lengths to make that argument, shoehorning Romney into a “mainstream”, then there’s really no case to be made to exclude the status quo candidate, Obama, from that same “mainstream”. And, it must be said, you can be in the “mainstream” and still lose elections. You might simply have (mainstream) positions seen as less favorable than your opponent’s positions (that are also mainstream). And (despite my protestations that Romney and Ryan held outside-the-mainstream opinions), that’s what happened on November 6th.

    Which brings me to:

    “How about we try standing on principle and making the case for it, and see what happens?”

    Yeah, that’s what just happened on November 6th. Akin and Mourdock couldn’t have been more clear about how seriously your side takes reigning in access to abortion. They stood on principle, did they not? So did Rick Berg (lost ND senate race), who stood on the principle of imprisoning women who abort. And Joe Walsh (lost IL house race), who stood on the principle that exceptions for the life of the mother were no longer necessary. So did Allen West (lost FL house race), who has made a career of standing on all kinds of crazy principles, including a bill he proposed that would allow American hospitals to follow Ireland’s lead (vis-a-vis Savita Halappanavar).

    And what of Romney/Ryan’s principles? Are you saying they shouldn’t have made that clumsy lurch to the middle in early October? Stood on the Republican red meat they were tossing out all summer? Maybe they could have ginned up a few more evangelical votes? Well, turns out, no. Romney won a bigger percentage of evangelicals than McCain did and even equaled President Bush’s share which has been seen as a benchmark for evangelical turnout. They squeezed that turnip for all it was worth. And, frankly, it had consequences. As Steve Schmidt (McCain’s campaign manager) said recently: “the GOP has to abandon the ceaseless pursuit of the last white guy in Mississippi at the expense of alienating the mainstream”.

    There’s that word, again. “Mainstream”. Seems you and Steve (and by extension, Johnny Mac) have a different conception of it.

    • Notable though your preposterous claim that Obama’s mainstream (because in the Astraspider School of Intellectual Honesty, one simply pretends inconvenient information doesn’t exist), your dubious assertion that various Senate outcomes were primarily or directly attributable to abortion, and the absurdity of citing McCain’s co-loser as an authority on winning may be, the main problem with your comment seems to be that you either didn’t comprehend, or simply ignored, my argument. Re-read the last three paragraphs and try again.

      • Forcing a woman to carry a child that was conceived through sexual assault through force of law is not a mainstream view and didn’t fail because of bad messaging. It failed because it’s a cruel, irrational, and fanatical point of view. And I don’t think it’s coincidence(and neither do you)that every candidate that held that view like Akin, Walsh, and of course Mourdock, lost in their respective elections either and that the real cause of their loss could be found elsewhere or blamed on Sandra Fluke.

        • “Forcing a woman to carry a child that was conceived through sexual assault through force of law is not a mainstream view”

          It also wasn’t Romney’s view, genius. I know from the typical caliber of your comments that you’re not really into the whole rational discussion thing, but it would be nice if you made some effort to incorporate facts into your rants.

          “It failed because it’s a cruel, irrational, and fanatical point of view.”

          Killing an innocent child is more cruel, irrational, and fanatical than not killing him or her. Got it.

          Akin and Mourdock were both widely expected to win their races before their rhetorical blunders; it’s not as if people somehow didn’t know beforehand that they were pro-life. And Romney carried both their states.

        • Mitch Behna

          So you admit its a child she’s carrying. And yet you think killing an unborn baby isn’t cruel, irrational, or a fanatical point of view? Please!

          • Andrew Orlovsky

            Mitch is exactly right,
            It seems every argument about abortion seems to come down to what is the “mainstream view”. The problem with America is that the mainstream is logically inconsistant. Most Americans, including moderate politicans McCain, Romney, Bob Casey Jr. and Joe Donnelly (I bet Richard Mourdock would be defeated a true pro-choice democrat in Indiana) seem to acknowledge that an unborn human really is a child and not just a clump of cells and there should be some restrictions on it. (Obama thinks it should be legal in all circumstances and is obviously out of the mainstream.) However, once rape is involved, they want to pretend like it is just becomes a clump of cells again and act like those who are simply being logically consisted are apologists for rape.

      • There’s been a lot of deconstruction & analysis and whining & finger-pointing about the Romney loss and your last three paragraphs of political advice fall into a kind of delusional true believer category. You know, of the “we weren’t conservative enough” camp. If I read you right, you think that Romney could have moved the “mainstream” to him, if he had just been a more convincing social warrior. Yeah, delusional.

        • “Delusional true believer” might carry more weight from someone who doesn’t fit that description herself, and I trust those who aren’t delusional true believers will understand what I wrote.

    • Mitch Behna

      When will you understand that Calvin has always responded back to your every criticism? Give it up. You’re not going to change our minds

      • Mickey

        lol. And I could say you are never going to change the minds of the US government hence Roe V Wade is still legal 40 years in the future and this last election doesn’t look too good for ya”ll. I will get an abortion if I have to no matter what you say.

      • I’m not trying to change your minds, Mitch, just trying to get y’all to hew to an argument that stands up to the tests of reality.