Arguments I Never Expected: Hayworth Is No More Conservative than McCain

My friend Matt Lewis pens a piece today about the coming primary between John McCain and former Representative JD Hayworth. I suppose it’s a preview of how McCain plans to try to split Hayworth from his conservative base. But if this is the best that McCain can do, then he’s headed for trouble.

First off, full disclosure: I have liked JD Hayworth since my days on Capitol Hill, and I had the chance to work with him and his staff (a little) on taxes and other legislation. I like JD because he tells it like he sees it, and he embraces conservative values down to his core. I respect and admire John McCain, and I appreciate the great work he has done for conservative causes at times in his career. However, I know – and anyone who has watched McCain knows – that if he is re-elected, he will at some point in the next 6 years work against conservatives and with liberals on energy taxes, free speech restrictions, or God-knows what other liberal cause suddenly consumes him. I believe that given the choice of a genuine conservative, and a conservative-when-voters-demand-it, conservatives should back the former – JD Hayworth.

Matt does not try to argue that McCain is more conservative than Hayworth, but that Hayworth isn’t ‘a conservative hero.’ It’s worth noting that Hayworth’s lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union is 98% – compared to 81% for McCain. And if you look at McCain’s ratings from groups like the ACU and others, you’ll note that in between elections there are years when his ratings drop considerably – because McCain is a maverick who has often worked against conservatives during his years in the Senate.

There’s an allegation that Hayworth is a big spender. Really? His rating from Citizens Against Government Waste is 89% while John McCain’s is 88% – a wash. Despite his rhetoric, John McCain is not without major spending problems. Consider his response to the economic crisis.

McCain voted for the $850 billion bailout bill that contained $150 billion in special interest earmarks. He called the bill “an obscenity,” but voted for it anyway, saying it was necessary. To make matters worse, McCain also proposed spending $300 billion to buy up every bad mortgage in America, a plan worthy of Barack Obama, and one the National Review called “a full bailout for lenders” that would let “reckless types off the hook” while putting taxpayers on it.

Who’s the big spender here?

And there was John McCain just yesterday on Good Morning America talking up tax cuts, worrying that the Bush tax cuts will expire, and reminiscing about the Gipper: “If you cut people’s taxes I think it stimulates the economy. We certainly found that out with President Reagan.” This sounds suspiciously like another election year conversion.

Two points here. First, John McCain voted against both the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, arguing that they were tax cuts for the rich. Second, McCain wasn’t always so fond of Reagan’s economic record. According to the Washington Post, “In December 1994, after his party swept to control of Congress on tax-cut promises, [McCain] challenged Ronald Reagan’s legacy when he warned, ‘I think we would be making a terrible mistake to go back to the ’80s, where we cut all of those taxes and all of a sudden now we’ve got a debt that we’ve got to pay on an annual basis that is bigger than the amount that we spend on defense.'”

Does that sound like a supply-sider to you?

Matt says that that Hayworth won’t buck his leadership because he supported the 527 Reform Act along with 208 of his Republican colleagues (just 20 voted “No”). (Let’s first note that there would have been no 527 Reform Bill if not for McCain-Feingold.) But how can it credibly be argued that Hayworth is too likely to go along with leadership in violation of conservative principle, when Hayworth was more responsible than anyone in Congress for defeating George Bush’s amnesty proposal?

No one in Congress did more to derail the amnesry than Hayworth – and he paid a price for his opposition. It is worth noting that when Hayworth publicly came out against McCain’s amnesty plan, McCain’s office responded by threatening to badmouth Hayworth in the media over Jack Abramoff. He could have folded, but he didn’t and all conservatives owe him a debt of gratitude for doing so much to defeat that effort.

And regarding Abramoff, Matt’s facts are off. First, it is simply not true that Hayworth was “heavily involved” with Abramoff; he certainly was less involved with Abramoff than McCain was with Charles Keating. And it is demonstrably untrue that he was the “largest recipient of campaign money from Abramoff.” That’s simply a phony Democratic talking point.

Hayworth has said he never had a meeting with Jack Abramoff. I’ve never seen an argument to the contrary. And Abramoff’s contributions to Hayworth’s campaign and PAC totalled $2,250 – nothing after 1999.

To me, the central question Arizona primary voters must decide is who is going to represent them better in the Senate for the next 6 years. Do they want to elect someone with a strong record of adherence to conservative values, or do they want to elect someone who seems to have been an adversary as often as he has an ally? As I pointed out earlier, Arizona conservatives who support John McCain know that if he is re-elected, they will regret their vote sometime in the next 6 years. Will it be because of cap-and-trade, or amnesty, or taxes, or Guantanamo Bay, or terrorist interrogation, or – who knows – traditional marriage?

Do Arizona conservative really want to play Charlie Brown, and fall for Lucy and the football… again?