Conservatives Bristle at McCain Nomination

Arizona Sen. John McCain says he can win over conservatives anxious about his potential nomination, but some of the most prominent and outspoken in the Republican party, such as Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, say otherwise.

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An increasingly confident Senator John McCain has a pivotal date in Washington today as he pursues his bid for the Republican presidential nomination. McCain addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference. That would be the bastion of influential conservatives on TV, on radio and especially in the blogosphere who despise McCain.

NPR's David Folkenflik reports.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK: The conservative Ann Coulter has yet again defined the outer limits. Here was her declaration on Friday during an appearance on the Fox News Channel with another McCain critic, Sean Hannity.

(Soundbite of TV show, "Hannity and Colmes")

Ms. ANN COULTER (Writer, Pundit): Manifestly, if he's our candidate, then Hillary's going to be our girl, Sean, because she's more conservative than he is. I think something…

Mr. FREY: Seriously, that's Ann Coulter, of all people, supporting her favorite Democratic pinata, Hillary Clinton. But Patrick Frey, the Los Angeles lawyer behind the conservative blog Patterico.com, rises to defend McCain, whom he describes as…

Mr. PATRICK FREY (Patterico.com): A good man, but somebody who enjoys poking conservatives in the eye.

Mr. FREY: Well, that sure doesn't sound like too much of a defense. Frey says he was basically a fan of Mitt Romney, but that McCain seems the sure nominee.

Mr. FREY: The way I look at it is, I think in the end, I'm going to cast a vote for John McCain if he is the Republican nominee. But as a blogger, I can't see myself getting too excited about rallying people to vote for him or trying to talk people into it.

Mr. FREY: Despite his record as a Vietnam War hero and a hawk on Iraq, McCain has staked out positions on campaign finance, immigration and health care that have alienated many elements of the conservative movement.

But wait a second. He just won so many states and party delegates on Tuesday, does he really need the conservative true believers? Frey says he does.

Mr. FREY: If you believe in the Karl Rove theory of why George Bush won the last two presidential elections, he would tell you it's about getting out the base. And John McCain is not going to get out the base.

Mr. FREY: That base should include people like Jeff Goldstein, who writes the blog Protein Wisdom from Denver. He holds Ronald Regan and Barry Goldwater as his heroes, just like McCain. But Goldstein says, no dice.

Mr. JEFF GOLDSTEIN (Blogger, Protein Wisdom): My vote has to be earned. I don't want to give my vote to a guy just because he has an R in front of his name.

Mr. FREY: Goldstein says he fears McCain will give a Republican seal of approval to a smothering federal bureaucracy.

Over at the National Review Online, blogger Andy McCarthy says conservatives would want President McCain to appoint conservative judges who would overturn the kind of legislation that Senator McCain supported.

Mr. ANDY MCCARTHY (Blogger, National Review Online): Voting for McCain after he has - in the minds of many of us - worked against is on so many important issues is just more than they can bear.

Mr. FREY: McCarthy is a former anti-terrorism prosecutor, and he originally backed his former boss, Rudy Giuliani. More recently, he's advised the Romney camp. McCarthy says he's wrestling about what to do.

Not so for radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. He says he'd rather have a Democrat in office to take the blame for what goes wrong than this Republican.

On Monday, McCain brushed off such talk.

Senator JOHN MCCAIN (Republican, Arizona): There are many others who have - who are saying good things about us. We'll unite the party. We'll have all parts of the party united, and I know that I can convince the majority of the voters that I am a solid conservative.

Mr. FREY: McCain has yet to close the sale. But he's going to try again, starting at that CPAC convention later today.

David Folkenflik, NPR News, Washington.

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