Conservatism is, among many other things, a culture. The most important glue binding it together is a shared sense of cultural grievance--the conviction, uniting conservatives high and low, theocratic and plutocratic, neocon and paleocon, that someone, somewhere is looking down their noses at them with a condescending sneer. And to conservatives, McCain has been too often one of the sneerers. It is, as much as anything else, a question of affect. As Michael Reagan wrote, "I don't like the way he treats people. You get the impression that he thinks everybody is beneath him."
They are not entirely imagining things. Birds fly, fish swim, McCain preens: it has ever been thus. His preening has turned the thin-skinned crypt-keepers of conservatism hysterical. "McCain's apostasies," Charles Krauthammer recently wrote in the Washington Post, "are too numerous to count." They aren't, really. Some conservatives still call the Republican nominee "Juan" McCain, for what Reagan calls "such blatantly anti-conservative actions as his support for amnesty for illegal immigrants." But of course Reagan's sainted father, in signing the 1986 immigration bill, was a more unapologetic and effective advocate of "amnesty" than McCain ever was--and you don't hear him getting labeled "Ronaldo" Reagan. Note, also, that other supposed bugaboo of conservative ideology: pork-barrel government spending. McCain is the Senate's leading fighter against spending earmarks. If pork was what they truly cared about, he'd be a hero. But that stance has earned him no points on the "conservative" side of the ledger.
The issues aren't the issue. George Stephanopoulos once asked Tom DeLay what it was conservatives demanded of McCain, and DeLay admitted as much: "I don't think they're demanding that he change in his position," he said. "It is attitude."
In other words: it's the ring-kissing, stupid. Consider George H.W. Bush's attitude: he all but groveled before conservatives--first calling supply-side doctrine "voodoo economics," then swallowing hard and accepting a spot as voodoo priest Reagan's running mate. Bob Dole, formerly a proud budget balancer, lay prostrate before them in accepting a 15 percent across-the-board tax cut as the cornerstone of his 1996 presidential platform, then took on movement hero Jack Kemp as his running mate.
Read the whole thing in the Nation.