Earlier this month the Arizona Republican party took the unusual step of censuring U.S. Senator McCain, delegates to a state meeting finding him too liberal on immigration issues. What this means practically is that the party organization won't support him should he seek a nomination for another term, though it remains questionable whether any challenger within the ranks could successfully primary him should he chose to run. Nevertheless, the censure vote signifies that McCain's base has moved further to his right. The entire Republican party appears to be drifting that way, and with that in mind it seems strange to see McCain's erstwhile running mate, ex-Gov. Palin of Alaska, coming to his defense. To the extent that she has any future in electoral politics, Palin's fortunes presumably depend on the good will of Tea Party types, the sort of Republicans, presumably, behind the censure of McCain. In fact, Palin was careful in her statement of support to emphasize that she, too, differs with McCain on immigration issues. While her defense of McCain might well be seen as an act of honor or gratitude toward the man who made her a national celebrity, Palin's gesture also serves to position her in a post-McCain debate to define the Republican agenda.
Palin's defense of McCain amounts to an assertion that foreign policy should remain a high priority for the Republican party. She puts this in terms Tea Partiers might understand by emphasizing McCain's persistence in investigating the Benghazi consulate attack. "Benghazi" has become a catchphrase if not a joke recently. To one side, it signifies a criminal indifference to terrorist threats that disgraces both President Obama and his heir-presumptive, Hillary Clinton. To the other, it signifies a hateful obsession with an issue of relative insignificance for the nation's present and future. Praising McCain for his "steadfastness in demanding truth in the White House's Benghazi cover-up," Palin seeks to remind Tea Partiers that McCain remains a committed enemy of Obama. But Palin's commitment to McCain and his foreign policy is about more than Benghazi. For her, the really important thing about McCain is that "He fights to remind our President that the federal government's first priority must be strong defense of our homeland." To the TPs in Arizona, she pleads, "Despite our differences on some other issues, there is no questioning
Senator McCain’s dedication to national security in spite of the White
In other words, for Sarah Palin national security trumps ideological purity. On one level you can only say, "one should hope!" But in Republican terms Palin seems to be walking a tightrope in an attempt to reconcile the Tea Party movement with a neocon agenda many TPs mistrust due to xenophobia, isolationism, common sense, or other reasons. Tea Partiers may believe that the U.S. is the mightiest country on earth, but they don't seem to feel as great a need to prove it constantly as neocons do, if only because they really, really don't give a damn about anyone else but themselves and thus don't care whether other countries are liberal democracies or not or do business with America or not. If they give a damn about Benghazi, it's probably because they suppose it proves Obama & Co. incompetent or soft on Islam. It doesn't necessarily follow that outrage over Benghazi means a renewed commitment to American domination of the world, but that may be what Palin expects and why she defends McCain against critics who might otherwise be her natural base. Few would think of Palin as a RINO -- "Republican In Name Only" -- but what that means depends on what it means to be a Republican. Whatever the Republicans in Arizona think, Palin has ideas of her own on the subject.