Republicans rooting for Rudy, overlooking his liberal positions on social issues and instead focusing on his national security hawkishness or his record of fiscal conservatism as Mayor of New York City, are already gravitating to John McCain based on Rudy’s say-so. It stands to reason that if these Republicans could forgive Rudy’s apostasies, they can surely overlook McCain’s. But what about those who consider McCain anathema – despite his 82 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union? Why is it that the same conservatives who can forgive Mitt Romney’s flip-flopping on just about every significant issue can’t get past McCain’s deviation from conservative orthodoxy on campaign finance, immigration and tax cuts?

It may be too late to talk Ann Coulter down off the ledge – she famously announced on Hannity & Colmes that if McCain is the Republican nominee, she would campaign for the pro-abortion, pro-cut-and-run, pro-illegal immigration, pro-tax hikes and pro-socialized medicine Hillary – but The Stiletto would like to make the case for McCain to conservatives who like to consider their options rationally and dispassionately.

† He has a shot. The FL primary demonstrated McCain’s appeal amongst Republicans who consider themselves moderates or independents – and he also won one out of four conservatives, one out of three evangelicals and one out of two Hispanics. McCain’s broad appeal in a state that is notable for its diversity is a huge asset going into Super Duper Tuesday, which is tantamount to a “national primary.” A coalition is beginning to form around McCain’s candidacy that gives him a good chance of securing his party’s nomination – and of winning the White House if Hillary is his opponent, as expected.

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne Jr. notes: “McCain would be the first Republican nominee since Gerald Ford in 1976 to win [the nomination] despite opposition from organized conservatism, and also the first whose base in Republican primaries rested on the party’s center and its dwindling left. McCain is winning despite conservatives, not because of them.” He’ll get no argument from Rush Limbaugh, who called McCain a Republican “imposter” In a recent broadcast: “McCain is in a lot of these places not actually the Republican candidate. He is the candidate of enough Republicans, but independents and moderates and probably even some liberals.”

Maybe that’s the point – McCain can be a uniter, as opposed to Romney. According to the results of a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 45 percent of voters in Super Duper Tuesday states said it would be harder for a Mormon to unite the country. McCain’s candidacy may even create a new political demographic: crossover McCain Democrats.

† He will not roll back the Bush tax cuts. While he has not signed Grover Norquist’s pledge, McCain “has moved in the right direction strongly and forcefully on taxes.” Here’s what McCain told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, after Wallace questioned him on his spotty record supporting the Bush tax cuts over the years:

Wallace: As president, will you veto any tax increase passed by a Democratic Congress?

McCain: Yes.

Wallace: That’s quick, but – and in fact, I think …

McCain: Well, I think the worst thing we can do right now, Chris, is – we’ve got some shaky economic times – is to increase people’s taxes. And I think that what we need is more tax cuts. We need to make Bush tax cuts permanent.

We need to get rid of the ATM. Corporate taxes in America are the second highest in the world. We need to cut corporate taxes. We need to give people reasons to write off and depreciation their business investments and equipment investments.

We need to stop the pork barrel spending. Look, the president signed into law two major spending bills that had $35 billion worth of earmark projects. And if we had taken that money, we could have given a $1,000 tax credit for every child in America.

This is big money. Everybody says, “Oh, it really isn’t that much.” It’s a lot. And even more importantly than that, it has totally eroded the confidence of the American people about what we do with their tax dollars.

Taxes aside, McCain has a long record of fighting pork barrel spending and government waste – issues that allowed Dems to recapture Congress in 2006 – and is the only candidate who can be trusted to make a serious attempt to rein in runaway government spending and whack away at the deficit.

†He took his lumps on illegal immigration and learned his lesson. Here’s what McCain said in last week’s primary debate in CA when asked whether he would back an immigration proposal that included a pathway to citizenship, as his own 2006 proposal had:

No, I would not, because we know what the situation is today. … [W]e’re all on agreement as to what we need to do. … we all know the American people want the border secured first. We will secure the borders first when I am president of the United States. I know how to do that. I come from a border state, where we know about building walls and vehicle barriers and sensors and all of the things necessary. I will have the border state governors certify the borders are secured, and then we will move on to the other aspects of this issue. Probably as importantly is tamper-proof biometric documents, which then, unless an employer hires someone with those documents, that employer will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. And that will cause a lot of people to leave voluntarily. There’s 2 million people who are here who have committed crimes. They have to be rounded up and deported.

†He will appoint strict constructionists to the Supreme Court. During the last Republican debate, McCain said, “The judges I would appoint are along the lines of … Justices Roberts and Alito [sic] have a proven record of strict interpretation of the Constitution of the United States of America,” and elaborated further on Fox News Sunday:

Wallace: Will you appoint conservative Supreme Court justices even if you have reason to believe that they might vote to overturn McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform?

McCain: I was very aware of the opinion of Justices Roberts and Alito, and I was one who fought hard for the confirmation of both of them. First of all, I wouldn’t impose any litmus test. That would be totally inappropriate. But second of all, I will appoint justices such as the ones I’ve strongly supported and gotten through the Senate, with the help of many others or help along with others, only those who strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States and do not legislate from the bench. And I have a clear record of that, too.

Wallace: And even if they might vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade and also McCain-Feingold.

McCain: Look, you cannot impose litmus tests. If you have justices that have a clear conservative – a clear, strict interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, then you don’t have to worry about what their decisions will be, because it’s pretty obvious that people who strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States are worthy of our confidence.

† His strength of character overcomes his character flaws. McCain is on the “right” side of the vast majority of positions that Republicans and conservatives care about, so why does he engender such intense antipathy in some? Columnist Lorie Byrd, who blogs at Wizbang, thinks it “has almost as much to do with the way McCain has taken the positions he has, as the positions themselves,” and goes on to cite his characterization of the Bush tax cuts as “tax cuts for the rich”; cultivating his media image as a maverick rather than representing the Republican party – even briefly flirting with being John Kerry’s running mate in 2004; his temper, barely contained the CA debate as he ruthlessly whaled away at Romney.

Pundits and politicos, who care about this inside baseball stuff, are seeing a different man than rank-and-file Republican voters: In FL, “voters perceived him as a person. He was picked overwhelmingly as the candidate who says what he believes,” reports the Los Angeles Times. And regardless of whether his accusation that Mitt Romney once favored a timetable for withdrawing from Iraq is mistaken or willfully misstated, the fact remains that when it counted most McCain was out front drumming up support for the surge. His political courage resonates with voters, who just don’t see Romney having that kind of backbone or constancy.

† McCain may well be the last of his kind. In a race that New York Magazine columnist Kurt Andersen has described as a political freak show (“the first female, African-American, Italian-American, Mormon, or ecclesiastic president … except for McCain, no candidate from the regular-mainstream-Wasp-guy pool that has produced 42 of our 43 presidents has a chance to win.”), McCain is the only candidate who has served in the military. (In the CA debate, Romney made a show of saying that he “regrets” not enlisting in one of the armed services, and he no doubt “regrets” that not one of his five sons has served, either.) This election could be the last time that Americans will get to vote for a candidate who is battle-hardened. On a real battlefield.

McCain is trying to mend his fences with conservatives, and while he may never win over many in the conservative chattering class – notably, Limbaugh, Coulter, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and former Sen. Rick Santorum – he has started to rack up some pretty impressive endorsements: Steve Forbes (who was formerly in Rudy’s camp), former Solicitor General Theodore Olson (an advisor to Rudy’s campaign), GA Sens. Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, Fmr. Sen. Don Nickles of OK and Fmr. Gov. Paul Cellucci of MA. If McCain eventually gets enough of the conservative establishment to back him, the anti-McCain talk on talk radio will ring hollow to Republican voters.

Maybe it’s time for the Reagan Coalition to give way to the McCain Coalition. As Karl Rove puts it in Newsweek: “Every presidential election is about change, and no more so than at the end of a two-term president’s time in the White House. Parties have to constantly update themselves if they hope to remain relevant. … Both parties are suffering the consequences of seeing substantial parts of their 20th-century agendas adopted; both parties are struggling to fashion new answers to the new challenges of a young century.”

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog.

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