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Hayes: McCain at CPAC

2:30 AM, Feb 6, 2008 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
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Phoenix, Arizona -- Conservatives expecting a bouquet of roses from John McCain in the coming days will be disappointed. McCain is scheduled to speak Thursday at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC, but he is not likely to share with the activists there any major changes of heart. That speech is still being crafted, but McCain is not expected to unveil any new blockbuster conservative-friendly policies.

In discussions with several McCain advisers today, they say they expect him to acknowledge forthrightly some of the differences he has had with conservatives, perhaps with some humor. He will likely mention campaign finance reform, tax cuts, and the environment as specific areas of disagreement. But the bulk of the speech will be John McCain reminding conservatives of the many issues on which he has been a conservative - government spending, the war in Iraq, abortion, Second Amendment issues, and others. Not surprisingly, McCain will talk at some length about his early support for the surge in Iraq and how important that change in strategy has been in improving security throughout the country, particularly in Baghdad.

Even as he makes the case that he is, in fact, a conservative, McCain will not pander. His advisers think any attempt to do so will undercut his "straight talk" reputation among independents and many Republicans. What's more, they say, McCain doesn't pander well and would reject any suggestion that he do so. (Remember when McCain read from a prepared statement on the Confederate Flag in South Carolina eight years ago?)

McCain said ten days ago that he would not reach out to Rush Limbaugh, but that he would be open to communications with anyone. His advisers seem confident that conservatives will come around without much targeted outreach, in part because they don't have anywhere else to go. They may end up being correct, but such an outcome is far from inevitable. McCain will have to make some overtures to his critics or many will simply choose to sit out, something no Republican will be able to afford given the enthusiasm of the Democrats.

One other note: McCain will likely skip a national security in conference in Munich, Germany, this weekend that he has attended regularly for the past fifteen years. He had planned to make the transatlantic trip as recently as last week, but after several discussions inside the campaign, it seems increasingly certain that McCain will pass on the conference.