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McCain Challenger J.D. Hayworth Is No Conservative Hero

5 years ago
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Former Arizona congressman-turned-talk-radio-host J.D. Hayworth has resigned his gab-festing gig in order to challenge Sen. John McCain in the 2010 Republican primary. (Although he has not officially launched his campaign, Hayworth recently told the AP, "We will formally announce at a later time, but we're moving forward to challenge John McCain.")

In these strange political times, such an extraordinary event -- McCain was the GOP presidential nominee just 15 months ago -- seems normal to the point of predictability. So, too, were the unsurprising responses within the political firmament. Democrats were delighted, movement conservatives were energized -- and not always in secret. Already, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.) has endorsed Hayworth, and numerous conservative blogs and Web sites are giddy about his candidacy. I'm not sure they should be.

Hayworth has a chance to catch fire for one simple reason: Conservatives, the people most likely to vote in a GOP primary election, have long been suspicious -- and in many cases, even contemptuous -- of McCain. (I have long been critical myself of his quixotic attempts to limit free speech via McCain/Feingold.)

The issue most likely to hurt McCain in Arizona, however, is his 2007 advocacy for the unpopular Kennedy-McCain immigration legislation -- a bill many conservatives still view as offering nearly unlimited "amnesty" for illegal aliens without doing anything to secure America's borders. In fact, McCain's support of this legislation nearly cost him the GOP's presidential nomination. Few issues arouse as much emotion as this one, and while the controversial co-founder of the Minuteman movement, Chris Simcox, is also in the race, he lacks the gravitas to pose a legitimate challenge to McCain. But Hayworth, a former member of Congress, seems well positioned to exploit this issue -- and even parlay it into national exposure and fundraising success.

The real issue for me, however, is that while John McCain has many problems, there's no reason to believe Hayworth is the solution. As conservatives look to young leaders with fresh ideas, Hayworth is a step backward. For starters, he was heavily involved with former "super-lobbyist" Jack Abramoff. Although he later cooperated with federal investigators and was never found to have done anything illegal, Hayworth was the largest recipient of campaign money from the now-convicted Abramoff.

Even more disquieting from a conservative philosophical point of view, Hayworth was supportive of the Bush era's big spending -- much more so than the fiscally prudent McCain.

Two things tainted the Republican brand: Corruption and spending -- and Hayworth is tied to both of them.

Hayworth's support of Bush's big-government polices included voting for the No Child Left Behind Act; the paperwork- and red-tape-friendly (and business-unfriendly) Sarbanes-Oxley Act; the pork-laden 2005 highway bill that included the infamous "bridge to nowhere"; and, most expensive of all, a Medicare drug benefit that created more than $7 trillion in unfunded liabilities. What is more, his support for a monstrosity known as the 527 Reform Act, which was intended to close "loopholes" in McCain/Feingold, and which was arguably worse for conservatives than the original article.

So Hayworth opposed McCain/Feingold, but supported the 527 Reform Act. This is telling, because the Republican leadership supported the latter. Hayworth's backing of it, therefore, shows his willingness to bend to the will of his party's establishment. This is hardly the record of a bold and independent conservative.

My take: As conservatives seek to remake the GOP, and simultaneously oppose President Obama's liberal policies, they should worry more about getting ahead and less about getting even. The truth is, we live in a world of limited resources. As such, conservatives must shepherd their political capital. There are numerous conservatives who deserve -- and need -- the support of grassroots activists and conservative donors. But every dollar donated to a J.D. Hayworth equals one dollar that does not go to a Marco Rubio, for example.

And let's be honest: John McCain most likely won't be running for re-election six years from now. Hayworth, on the other hand, would likely be in the Senate for the next 20 years. In other words, call me when Arizona congressmen Jeff Flake or John Shadegg decide to run statewide. Until then, I can certainly live with John McCain.

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