For conservatives with long memories, John McCain is about the worst possible Republican presidential nominee - unless, of course, anyone still thinks Mike Huckabee actually has a shot at the brass ring, or you like seeing the GOP split asunder. And the reason why can perhaps best be summed up in two words: McCain-Feingold.
Sen. McCain's campaign finance reform bill - which he pushed relentlessly, almost to the exclusion of everything else - was a frontal attack on the right of free speech. Not commercial or pornographic free speech, mind you. Political free speech. The kind of speech the Founders clearly had in mind when they emphatically declared that Congress shall make no law abridging.
An even bigger problem is that too many Republicans actually agree with John McCain on restricting political speech. Mike Huckabee, for instance.
McCain-Feingold is a constitutional abomination. If John McCain can chuck the First Amendment overboard, no other constitutional protections would be safe under his watch either. Indeed, Sen. McCain has also gone after the Second Amendment with efforts to close the so-called "gun show loophole." But for gun rights advocates, that was no "loophole." It was just another chapter in the gun-grabbers never-ending quest to disarm American citizens.
Recall, also, that it was Sen. McCain who led the "Gang of 14," which undercut the GOP attempt to break Harry Reid's filibusters of conservative judges. Many conservative judicial nominees have never received so much as the courtesy of an up-or-down vote, thanks to Sen. McCain and his band of moderate Republicans.
And then there's the glue that holds conservatives of all stripes together - taxes. John McCain was against tax cuts before he was for them. Recall that McCain voted against the Bush tax cuts while he was a senator, but now he's all for tax cuts as a presidential candidate. And McCain is the only remaining GOP presidential candidate to thus far refuse to sign the Taxpayer Protection Pledge promising not to raise taxes.
There's also the matter of illegal immigration. No matter how many times Sen. McCain says the bill he co-sponsored with Ted Kennedy wasn't amnesty - it was. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it ain't no chicken.
In an effort to re-invent this history and make John McCain palatable to conservatives today, supporters are now pointing to his 82 percent lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union (ACU). But this is extremely misleading. McCain only gets to 82 percent lifetime because he was far more conservative in his early years in Congress two decades ago than he is now. Indeed, his ACU score for 2006 was a paltry 65 percent.
True limited-government conservatives and principled Republicans will continue to oppose John McCain as the GOP's nominee, but the senator from Arizona might nevertheless prevail. If so, I suspect even the specter of a President Hillary won't be enough to get many conservative elephants to forget the John McCain they've known and vote for him in November. It could be 2006 all over again.
Republicans better be careful whom they vote for. They just might get him. And by extension ... HER.
• Chuck Muth, of Carson City, is president and CEO of Citizen Outreach and a political blogger. Read his views Fridays on the Appeal Opinion page or visit www.muthstruths.com.