Senator Brownback on the Case for John McCain

Deal W. Hudson
January 21, 2008

Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS) is the leading pro-life Catholic in the Senate. After withdrawing from the race for the GOP presidential nomination, he endorsed Senator John McCain (R-AZ). His choice of McCain surprised some of Brownback’s supporters, so I asked him about his endorsement.

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Deal W. Hudson: Some people were surprised when you endorsed John McCain. Could you explain your reasons for choosing him over the other candidates?

Sen. Sam Brownback: For me, it really came down to either Mike Huckabee or John McCain. All the candidates are good people, but I saw McCain as the complete candidate. I felt closer to Huckabee on pro-life issues but felt that he would be unable to build out our coalition. You’ve got to have fiscal conservatives and security conservatives in addition to pro-lifers.

McCain is acceptable on the whole range of issues. He has been pro-life for 24 years and supports marriage as a union of man and woman. He is a hard-rock fiscal conservative. But what really tipped it for me was the fact that there are two things a president does alone – the president shapes his foreign policy, and he leads the military as commander-in-chief. On those two fronts, McCain is the only candidate with foreign policy experience. And he would be the most experienced military person in the White House since Dwight Eisenhower, a favorite son of Kansas.

DH: How troubled were you by his position on embryonic stem cell research?

SB: I was troubled by it, and it was the one item I raised with him when we discussed my endorsement. I told him he should reconsider his position on this issue. He said, “With you by my side, we will take another look at this issue.”

But he also made clear that he would appoint strong judges, which is the key pro-life issue in the next election. If we lose the presidency this fall we will be set back one or two judges on the Supreme Court, and we will go back to the activist court controlled by the Left.

On top of all this, just after my endorsement, we witnessed the scientific breakthrough allowing the creation of stem cells from skin tissue, so I think the science is putting us all on the other side of this issue.

DH: One of the criticisms I hear of Sen. McCain is that he’s a maverick, an independent who can’t be trusted to do what conservatives want him to do.

SB: He is an independent and does have a maverick streak in him. That is what makes him so electable in the fall and makes him a winner against Clinton or Obama. But once McCain makes a commitment, he keeps that commitment – he will not waiver from his basic commitments to fiscal and security conservatism, as well as the pro-life cause. I have seen this from John, having served with him in the Senate and having competed against him as a candidate.

John McCain is a man who can be trusted to keep his promises.

DH: Was McCain a colleague in the Senate who could be relied upon to back conservative causes?

SB: My experience is that if John commits to something, he will do it, especially on fiscal, military, foreign policy, and life issues other than embryonic stem cells. McCain was always with us on gun issues. McCain-Feingold was something I voted against – McCain saw it as a way to stop the corruption, but I don’t think it’s the way to do it. I think it was unconstitutional.

DH: McCain gets a lot of nasty criticism about his experience as a prisoner of war and so on. What does his response to charges like that tell you about him?

SB: His response shows a lot of growth and maturity since the 2000 election. These are wildly false accusations against something that he has done which is incredibly admirable. He was a prisoner of war in Vietnam who chose not to come home early when he had the chance. This time around he has not taken the bait and gotten mad about it. His nosedive in the polls during the summer gave him a dose of humility which was good for him as a person and as a leader.

DH: What can you say about McCain as a man of faith?

SB: He respects authentic faith. But if it seems hypocritical, he just has nothing to do with it. When he sees authentic faith, he has great admiration for it.

DH: Do you think that he has learned to respect the role of religious conservatives in politics? He was very upset with them after the South Carolina primary in 2000.

SB: He has said many times that one of the worst things he ever did in politics was to criticize Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell.

In the dealings I have had with him, he has shown a great deal of respect for religious conservatives. He carried a chip on his shoulder about his experience in the 2000 South Carolina primary, but he got over it and moved on.

DH: Is there anything about McCain that has special appeal to Catholic voters?

SB: His view of immigration should appeal to Catholics. His stance is not the popular political position – he is saying the immigrants are all God’s children and should be treated as such.

His position has cost him quite a bit in the primaries. It will become a positive factor in the general election. He is a better general election candidate than a primary candidate for reasons like this.

DH: What would a McCain administration be like?

SB: If you look at the kind of staff he has attracted, it would suggest his administration would be conservative but eclectic. You will have staunch security conservatives, faith-oriented conservatives, fiscal conservatives, foreign policy conservatives, but I think you will also see a lot of variety in areas like the environment.

DH: Some people I have talked to criticize McCain for the fact that he worked with Sen. Kennedy. Is that a fair criticism?

SB: It’s not. I get the same criticism for working with Kennedy – we are working on Downs Syndrome legislation together. If you are going to get anything done in the United States Senate you have to work across the aisle, and McCain has figured out that Ted can deliver votes.

McCain doesn’t agree with Kennedy on a whole string of issues, starting with the Iraq War. But McCain will reach across the aisle to get things done. People want to see their government work on significant issues, and McCain has done the best job of anyone in the Senate of making bi-partisan efforts.

DH: It sounds like you’re saying that McCain has the best chance of making the government work more smoothly than it has over the last few years.

SB: There are a number of candidates running for the nomination, and each one has his area of expertise. Romney is probably the best on economic growth issues; Huckabee is the best on social conservative issues; McCain is the best on fiscal, foreign policy, and security issues.

But McCain is the most experienced of all the candidates. He has learned the hard way by his service and leadership in the Senate. Of all the GOP candidates, McCain is the most capable of beating the Democrats in November and preserving the Reagan coalition.

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