Reprinted from NewsMax.com
McCain Woos Conservatives
Thursday, February 7, 2008 8:21 PM
By: Kenneth R. Timmerman
Sen. John McCain made a spirited and generally well-received attempt to
win support from movement conservatives Thursday, in a humble and at
times self-deprecating speech at the Conservative
Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C.
Key conservatives have been openly hostile toward McCain. Some,
including one of the fathers of the modern conservative movement, Paul
Weyrich, have said they could “never vote for McCain.”
But the wind was taken out of conservative sails earlier in the day
when former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney told CPAC that he was
withdrawing from the race.
The two Republican rivals conferred by telephone before Romney’s
concession speech, in which Romney said he felt it was more important
to win the war on terror than to fight a war within his own party.
McCain was introduced Thursday by former Sen. George Allen, who had
been the great hope of many conservatives before his U.S. Senate
re-election campaign blew up in 2006 after he called a Democrat stalker
Allen fired the first salvo in the campaign to woo conservative
“Fellow conservatives, you are essential team members in our cause,” he
said. He pointed to McCain’s strong record in supporting the war on
terror, and his efforts in the Senate to cut government waste.
“There is no more ferocious advocate for stopping wasteful spending
than John McCain,” Allen said.
Sen. Tom Coburn, another hero of the conservative movement, said that
McCain had the “determination, guts and experience” to combat Islamic
fascism, which was the greatest threat facing America.
In his remarks, McCain displayed a combination of humility and humor to
win over his audience.
“It’s been a little while since I’ve had the honor of addressing you,”
McCain began, drawing snickers from many in the audience.
Last year, McCain pointedly refused to join other potential Republican
candidates at CPAC, but he joked that he had not wanted to give the
impression he was the front-runner. “I lost that soon enough. I hope I
can hold onto it this time,” he said to laughter.
“I have a responsibility to unite the party and prepare … for
November,” McCain said. He said he was fully aware that he could not
win “without the support of dedicated conservatives.”
McCain’s biggest stumbling block with movement conservatives was his
support for President Bush’s amnesty bill for illegal aliens. Just the
mention of the word “immigration” generated a chorus of boos and
McCain chuckled, and stood back from the microphone until the room died
down. “It’s a position that still angers some people,” he said with a
“We failed,” he said. “I accept that. I have pledged that it will be my
highest priority to secure our borders first,” he said. He pledged to
“offer Americans a clearly conservative approach to governing” during
the election campaign.
While the audience gave him a lukewarm welcome at first, they gradually
warmed as McCain spoke of the importance of the war on terror and drew
stark differences between himself and Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and
Barack Obama, who he said had “muddled judgment” and “would take this
“This election is going to be about big things, not small things,” he
said. “The Democrats intend to expand the size of the federal
government; I will reduce it.”
The crowd jumped to their feet when McCain vowed, “I won’t sign a bill
with earmarks – any earmarks – in it” and vowed to make the Bush tax
Just as significant as anything McCain said was his attitude, according
to many participants and key players in the conservative movement who
spoke to Newxmax afterwards.
“I was skeptical that he would be sufficiently humble,” said Colin
Hanna of Let Freedom Ring. “He moved me much more than I expected. He
showed humor, humility, and honesty. If he continues, he could actually
secure the support of the conservative movement.”
Morton Blackwell, who heads the Leadership Institute and is a board
member of the American Conservative Union, the CPAC organizer, said
that as a Republican committeeman (from Virginia) he would support the
party’s nominee no matter what.
“McCain understands it’s not going to be easy to unite the conservative
coalition, but it needs to be united if we’re going to win in
November,” Blackwell told Newsmax.
Jim Martin, of the 60 Plus Association, said the speech was “a nice
step forward. I was encouraged.” However, he noted that conservatives
would be voting “more against Hillary than for McCain.”
David Horowitz, who has played a key role in mobilizing grass-roots
support among conservatives for the war on terror, was more upbeat.
“McCain is the only candidate we have who can win the general against
Hillary,” Horowitz told Newsmax. “He understands that the main issue is
the war. And social conservatives should be happy, because he is
pro-life. He could pull together a new conservative coalition, a
Even David Bossie, president of Citizens United, a group that ran ads
that called McCain “as liberal as Hillary Clinton,” was ready to make
peace with the apparent Republican nominee.
“I ran my ad campaign when we had an option. Now we have no option. I’m
a fan of not falling on the sword, and a Republican president is better
than Hillary or Barack Obama – especially with the war, which is what
Bossie says he was favorably impressed by McCain’s pledge to veto
earmarks and to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. “But in order to win,
he has to energize the base.”
Can McCain perform that magic with a Republican base that has been
notoriously hostile to him in the past?
McCain went out of his way to reassure and woo this conservative crowd.
“I’ve held positions you don’t like. I won’t pretend otherwise,” he
said. As the catcalls began, he laughed good-naturedly. “And you won’t
allow me to forget it,” he added.
If elected, he said he would govern as a conservative. “Even in
disagreement, I will seek the counsel of my fellow conservatives,” he
If they could convince him that he was wrong – as he now admits he was
wrong on immigration, and on McCain-Feingold – “then I will change my
position,” he pledged.
Said Dave Wallace, a Republican activist in Montgomery County, Md., who
had not come to CPAC as a McCain supporter, the candidate convinced.
“This speech made a difference,” he said. “It changed my mind.
Especially when he acknowledged his error in McCain-Feingold. Who
knows, maybe he’ll be the one person who can actually correct it!”
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