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The conservative base isn’t fond of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. They disagree with him on a wide variety of issues, and they feel insulted by McCain’s ardent desire to please those across the political aisle.

But conservatives are fools if they stay home in November.

There’s plenty to question about John McCain, but there’s one thing conservatives can’t question: McCain is better than Hillary Clinton. He’s better than Barack Obama. And it’s not close.

McCain is a hard-line proponent of victory in Iraq. He has pledged to lower taxes. He has always fought governmental corruption, even if that has led him to absurd extremes like campaign finance reform. He is a strong pro-life voter. He says he will veto any bill that has any earmarks. In 2006, McCain received a 65 percent rating from the American Conservative Union, which measures whether members of Congress are in line with conservatives on major issues. In 2005, his score was 80 percent.

Here are Hillary Clinton’s scores in those same two years: 8 percent and 12 percent. Obama scored 8 percent both years.

It’s simply unthinkable to equate McCain’s record with either Clinton’s or Obama’s. McCain is a left-leaning Republican, which means he ranks in the upper half of the Senate in terms of political conservatism. National Journal, by contrast, ranked Clinton the 16th most liberal senator in the Senate in 2007. Obama was No. 1.

Despite the vast difference between McCain and his Democratic opponents, many conservatives are threatening to boycott the 2008 election. They argue that the Republican Party has abandoned conservatism, and that to reclaim the party, the GOP may have to go through the purifying ritual of cataclysmic electoral defeat.

This is historically ignorant. Intra-party squabbles are constant with regard to choosing presidential candidates. Parties do not move toward a particular ideological group because of electoral defeat – they move toward a particular ideological group because that group is most motivated to back a single candidate. Ronald Reagan was a rising force in the Republican Party before Gerald Ford lost to Jimmy Carter – he almost wrested the nomination from Ford in 1976. The Democratic Party’s recent move to the left has not been a reaction to their electoral defeats in 2000 and 2004 – after all, Al Gore and John Kerry were certainly quite liberal. The problem with the conservative movement in 2008 wasn’t the movement – it was the lack of a candidate. And sending the GOP to ringing defeat in 2008 won’t push the party back to the right unless there’s a candidate to rally around.

If conservatives think they can rally around a challenger in 2012 and oust an incumbent Democrat, they should think again. Conceding the White House in 2008 could easily mean an eight-year term for either Hillary or Obama – and such an eight-year term would wreak havoc on a country already overburdened by taxes and under assault from Islamic terrorism.

The proposed conservative boycott of the GOP in 2008 also demonstrates a massive misunderstanding of the GOP’s role. The GOP isn’t constructed to nominate conservative candidates. It is constructed to win. It’s the conservative base’s responsibility to nominate conservative candidates. In 2008, the conservative base failed. That isn’t the GOP’s fault. Punishing the GOP fruitlessly punishes an organization that isn’t to blame.

Conservatives must recognize that the choice in 2008 is between John McCain and Clinton or Obama. It isn’t about McCain vs. Romney or McCain vs. Huckabee anymore. And if McCain wins, that doesn’t preclude conservatives from rallying around a more conservative candidate next time. Dooming the country to at least four years of Democratic incompetence and appeasement won’t solve conservatives’ problem.

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