Conservative crackup over McCain continues

Some on the right are simply unprepared to accept him as the Republican presidential nominee; a few would even cross the aisle in November over it.

Published February 1, 2008 8:20PM (EST)

On Wednesday, we brought you some of the more apoplectic reactions from conservatives after Sen. John McCain's victory in Florida's Republican primary. Well, the tenor of the debate on the right over McCain's candidacy has by no means cooled over the past couple of days. If anything, as we get to the key primaries of Super Tuesday, the anger over the prospect of Republican presidential candidate John McCain has grown. Some prominent conservatives are even threatening drastic action.

Take Ann Coulter. In an appearance on Fox News' "Hannity and Colmes" that's now been widely remarked upon, she told the two hosts that if McCain was nominated, and running against Sen. Hillary Clinton, she'd vote for Clinton.

The brothers Limbaugh -- Rush and lesser-known sibling David -- have been hitting McCain hard in recent days. On Rush's Web site, in a list of quotes from his Thursday broadcast he includes, among others, "McCain's kind of like the Clintons in a sense: you tell the truth about them and they think it's a personal attack" and "Lindsey Graham is certainly close enough to John McCain to die of anal poisoning." (We hope there's some sort of legitimate reference in that second one that we're just not getting, but we doubt it.) Then David, in a column on Friday, wrote, McCain "is the anti-conservative. He instinctively sides against conservatives and relishes poking them in the eye.

"He enjoys cavorting and colluding with our political enemies and basks in the fawning attention they give him. Adding insult to injury, he now pretends to be the very thing he is not: an across-the-board Reagan conservative."

Then there's Michelle Malkin, last seen implying that perhaps there was something amiss with the voting in Florida that led to McCain's win, who was set off again by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's appearance with McCain Thursday. "So, Arnold Schwarzenegger endorsed John McCain. He extolled McCain for 'reach[ing] across the political aisle to get things done' ...

"To which I say: When did it become the Republican Party's top priority to 'get things done?'" Malkin wrote.

She continued: "'Get things done' is mindless liberal code for passing legislation and expanding government.

"And as McCain's ample legislative record demonstrates, 'reaching across the political aisle' never entails pulling opponents to the right. It always entails selling out the right.

"How about defending our side of the political aisle?"

In a column, Thomas Sowell went after McCain's prized reputation as a "straight talker." "We have been hearing for years that Senator John McCain gives 'straight talk' and his bus has been endlessly referred to as the 'Straight Talk Express.' But endless repetition does not make something true," Sowell wrote. "... When confronted with any of his misdeeds, Senator McCain tends to fall back on his record as a war hero in Vietnam.

"Let's talk sense. Benedict Arnold was a war hero but that did not exempt him from condemnation for his later betrayal."

Meanwhile, McCain's chief remaining rival on the Republican side, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, is quickly racking up endorsements from influential conservatives. Sean Hannity, previously a barely closeted supporter of Rudy Giuliani's, was one of the first to jump. Hannity's fellow radio host Laura Ingraham endorsed Romney on her show Friday morning; joining her for the broadcast was former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Santorum, who has been outspokenly anti-McCain, made his endorsement of Romney official on Ingraham's show. In a conference call with conservative bloggers on Friday, Romney acknowledged the support he's gotten, saying: "When Sean Hannity says he's voting for me, when Laura Ingraham says she's endorsing me ... Rush has been going after McCain pretty aggressively. Michael Reagan has been pretty aggressive. The world of conservatism is pretty solidly behind my effort."

The right is not entirely anti-McCain, though. The New York Times on Friday printed a good roundup of conservatives ready to rethink their position on him, the New York Post endorsed him, radio host Michael Medved suggested his fellow hosts needed to come to grips with the reality of the situation, and the McCain campaign itself has kept up a steady patter of e-mails to reporters announcing new endorsements, including Ted Olson, the former solicitor general who's a favorite of conservatives.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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2008 Elections John Mccain R-ariz.