Thursday, June 14, 2007

McCain: European or American Conservative?

On all of my recent trips to Europe--most notably to Germany and Britain--interlocutors there have been keenly interested in the U.S. presidential race. And one of their major concerns is whether or not the next president will be able to reinvigorate the trans-Atlantic alliance and restore a sense of common purpose and partnership that many feel has been eroded in recent years.

No less than those on the left, those who self-identified themselves as conservatives raised issues such as Guantanamo Bay and climate change as continuing sources of friction in ties across "the pond." And, particularly in London (prior, of course, to Putin's Gambala gambit, there was a good deal of speculation about whether rising dissatisfaction with Moscow's policies might help to bring Europe and North America closer together.

So, based on things like Senator McCain's interview last month with Business Week, where he said he would "close Guantánamo Bay" and "address climate change in the most serious fashion", and then his use of the Financial Times more recently to lay out a more skeptical line vis-a-vis Russia, it would seem that he is continuing to lay the groundwork in Europe as the "conservative Europeans could do business with." And since two of the EU-3 are now governed by conservative politicians, and with gamblers' odds that the UK will also have a conservative government by the time the next U.S. president takes office, it certainly looks like a good strategy. It undercuts one of the Democrats' particular arguments, advanced by John Kerry in 2004, that Democrats are in a better position to improve ties with key European allies.

But if McCain adopts positions that may play well with European conservatives, will that carry sufficient weight with U.S. conservatives? I am on record warning U.S. audiences not to overestimate what President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel are prepared to deliver because "both are pro-American, but from a European perspective." Will the Republican rank-and-file respond to the notion of a common Western "conservative" position on issues like climate change? Is there such a thing as a European conservative endorsement and does it really have much impact anymore for Republicans?

The other point is how much maneuvering room McCain would have. Does he have to be in essentially close agreement (say 90 percent) with Sarkozy and Merkel on a number of major issues in order to claim for himself the style of being the Republican best suited to repairing the Atlantic Alliance (against his major rivals who perhaps lack substantial foreign policy experience)? Or, does being closer to them on a number of issues than say, President Bush is, but not really in close agreement, not really pay dividends--as Speaker Pelosi found in her European trip--that criticisms of the Administration are not really sufficient? Or will European conservatives decide that they can accept differences from a conservative they view as "pro-European, but from an American perspective?"

Why this latter point matters is that advisors to both Sarkozy and Merkel are debating whether or not they should move ahead on new initiatives with the United States now or wait until there is a new president. And would both see Senator McCain as their preference--and would such support help or hinder him as he seeks the Republican nomination?

Will become moot point anyway since McCain is dead in the water.
To most red state Americans, European conservatives are liberals. So nothing to be gained by courting them.
To most red state Americans, Europeans of any kind just don't exist. Actually, their endorsement might hurt; I can imagine one of McCain's opponents asking if he is running for president of the US or president of France.
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