How Does McCain Prove Himself to Conservatives? Judges

As we noted last week, whenever John McCain finds himself in a situation where he needs to discuss his faith in order to appease the Religious Right, he relies on a story from his time in captivity when, at Christmas, a North Vietnamese prison guard once drew a cross in dirt with his sandal.  Unfortunately for McCain, the Right is not satisfied with such stories of compassion and kindness and so McCain has continued to struggle to win them over.  

But while he may be reluctant to openly discuss his faith on the campaign trail, McCain does have other tactics for winning over GOP’s skeptical conservative faith and he is far from reluctant to exploit it:  pledging judges in the mold of John Roberts and Samuel Alito.  

In just about every address he has made in which he was facing a skeptical, if not hostile, crowd, McCain has relied on some form of this pledge in order to prove his conservative bona fides.  He did it at the Values Voter Summit, where he vowed to “appoint strict constructionist judges that won’t legislate from the bench.”  He did it at CPAC, where he promised “to nominate judges … of the character and quality of Justices Roberts and Alito.”  He made it when he addressed the Council for National Policy, saying “I am proud to have played a role in the appointment of two of the finest judges I think that may have ever been appointed to the United States Supreme Court in Justices Alito and Roberts.”   

In fact, it seems to have become something of his standard answer when faced with challenges to his conservative credentials and he trotted it out yesterday in Pennsylvania in response to question on how he intends to convince Republican voters that he’ll be “a passionate and forceful leader with a conservative agenda” if elected:

John McCain was halfway through a town hall event in central Pennsylvania on Tuesday when a questioner seemed to stop him cold.

”We conservatives believe you dismiss our serious quest for responsible, limited government,” the woman said during the question-and-answer session at the York Expo Center. ”In your quest for the presidency, we want to know if it is in you to become a passionate and forceful leader with a conservative agenda”

The 5,500-person crowd burst into applause. McCain responded succinctly and playfully: ”Yes.”

After his curt response to the questioner at the York event was met with a polite, ”Well, thank you,” McCain continued: ”I want to look you in the eye and assure you that I have supported Justice [Samuel] Alito and Justice [John] Roberts.”

He added: ”I will nominate … only judges who have a clear record of strict adherence to the Constitution of the United States and do not believe in legislating from the bench.”

Judicial nominations, and especially the future of the Supreme Court, have long been among the most important issues for the Right.  Considering that McCain has a long history of supporting just about every right-wing nominee, beginning all the way back with Robert Bork and continuing through the current administration, it looks like he has finally found the one issue on which he can cater to the Right on their own terms.