McCain courts right wing

Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainVeterans group to hand out USS John McCain T-shirts for July 4 on the National Mall Will we ever have another veteran as president? Meghan McCain clashes with Joy Behar as the 'sacrificial Republican' on 'The View' MORE (R-Ariz.) will launch a new push Tuesday to ingratiate himself with social conservatives who mistrust him but whose support is vital to his hopes of winning the White House.

Right-wing leaders, who know he needs their backing, are working on a list of demands to pin him down on choosing judges with a conservative philosophy.

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The two sides are engaged in a minuet that will determine the shape of this year’s Republican presidential platform.

Seeking to overcome the right’s persistent mistrust, McCain will speak Tuesday on the importance of nominating conservative jurists to the federal courts, including the Supreme Court.

Along with abortion, this is one of the few areas where the candidate agrees with leading social conservatives.

These leaders are coalescing around the idea that the GOP should pledge in its official platform that the president should nominate only judges with clear conservative records.

This demand is a response to President Bush’s Supreme Court nomination of former White House counsel Harriet Miers, a loyalist with scant experience of constitutional jurisprudence. Conservative opposition derailed her nomination.

Conservative leaders also want the party to embrace language that would instruct Senate leaders to make the confirmation of nominees a higher priority. Conservatives say Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden, Eastland and rejecting the cult of civility California governor predicts 'xenophobic' GOP will likely be third party in 15 years This week: Congress set for clash on Trump's border request MORE (R-Ky.) must press Democrats harder to confirm several controversial nominees, such as D.C. Circuit Court nominee Peter Keisler and 4th Circuit Court nominee Robert Conrad Jr.

Manuel Miranda, a former aide to ex-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), circulated a draft Monday of principles for the GOP platform committee to consider. Several conservative leaders quickly endorsed it.  

Paul Weyrich, chairman of the conservative Free Congress Foundation, said he supports including the language on judicial nominees in the party platform.

“I think the more we particularize that whole issue, the more people focus on the topic,” Weyrich said.
Making detailed guidelines on judicial nominees part of the platform would also help social conservatives hold McCain to account if he is elected president.

“You can compare what the party says with any subsequent action by its nominees,” said Weyrich.  

The proposed language differs from what Republicans adopted at their 2004 convention in important ways. The 2004 platform mostly listed conservatives’ grievances with the decisions of liberal judges, such as a federal court ruling that barred reference to God in the Pledge of Allegiance.

{mospagebreak}The new language instead offers guidelines for the next president to follow in selecting nominees.

Conservatives want to avoid nominees, such as Miers, who do not have an extensive conservative record.

The guidelines also put greater pressure on Senate Republican leaders to treat confirmation of conservative nominees as a matter of urgency.

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“Whether in the leadership of the majority or minority, Senate leadership must press for floor time debate and votes, and give judicial nominations their proper due,” a draft of the proposed platform language states.

Conservative activists believe the time is right to press McCain and other party leaders.

Although McCain became the party’s unofficial but certain candidate when former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney dropped out of the presidential race on Feb. 7, many conservatives have yet to rally to his campaign.

McCain won only 73 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania’s Republican primary despite widespread recognition he will serve as the party’s nominee. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a darling among social conservatives, won 11 percent of the vote even though he withdrew from the race in March.

McCain has problems with socially conservative Republicans in other pivotal states. Prominent social conservatives say McCain would lose Ohio if the vote were held now.

“He’s still got a long way to go,” said Phil Burress, chairman of Citizens for Community Values Action, an Ohio-based public policy group founded on Judeo-Christian principles.  “He’s lost Ohio right now and he’s not going to win the election without Ohio.”

Conservative leaders say judicial nominees offer one of the few issues on which McCain can rally their support.

“It’s one of the most important things for him to talk about,” said Mort Blackwell, a conservative leader and Republican national committeeman. “I once had a group of 25 leaders of conservative organizations in a room. I asked how many of them felt that they would be adversely affected by a left-wing judiciary and every hand shot up.

“Conservatives are aware of the importance of having constitutionalist, original-intent judges appointed. It’s prudent and wise for McCain to stress.”

McCain will deliver his speech at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.; the state will host its primary the same day. By addressing the importance of nominating conservative, strict-constructionist judges to the courts, McCain may hope to rally social conservatives and win a higher percentage of the vote than he did in Pennsylvania.

Republican National Committee officials have invited social conservative leaders based in and around Washington, D.C., to attend a meeting Tuesday morning where former Sen. Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsCNN's Jake Tapper repeatedly presses Pence on whether he thinks climate change is a threat Hillicon Valley: Tim Cook visits White House | House hearing grapples with deepfake threat | Bill, Melinda Gates launch lobbying group | Tech turns to K-Street in antitrust fight | Lawsuit poses major threat to T-Mobile, Sprint merger House Intel to take first major deep dive into threat of 'deepfakes' MORE (R-Ind.) will give them a preview of McCain’s remarks.

“That is the one issue where conservatives could hold their nose and get behind his candidacy,” said Connie Mackey, vice president of Family Research Council Action Fund, a group that advocates Christian values. “It is the main issue upon which conservatives rally for McCain.”

Conservatives still hold grudges against McCain for several slights. Burress cited McCain’s support of embryonic stem cell research and campaign finance legislation, as well as his opposition to a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

They are also upset over his role in the bipartisan Gang of 14 senators who struck a deal in 2005 that was seen on the right to preserve Democrats’ power to filibuster judicial nominees.