Transatlantic Briefing No. 6-06
RUSI Analysis, 6 Oct 2006
US Senator John McCain, recently visited Bournemouth to support the new Conservative Party leader David Cameron, as Cameron began what appears to be a Conservative Revolution in Britain. McCain was invited in an effort to increase international attention to Cameron’s campaign. It was also an attempt to assuage accusations of anti-Americanism following a speech he gave questioning Britain’s special relationship with America. As McCain and Cameron are both conservatives, this budding relationship has been compared to that of Reagan and Thatcher in the 1980’s. David Cameron’s recent speech as leader of the Conservative party, however, demonstrated that the party is moving towards the centre-right and away from the legacy of Thatcher, especially in-term of domestic policies. While the Conservative Party in the UK adjusts policy to be more ‘in tune with the 21st’ century, it is likely that McCain, as a prominent figure in the Republican Party, will make a similar move on the other side of the Atlantic.
John McCain’s strong support for David Cameron and the relationship they are building adds a new angle to the transatlantic relationship between the US and the UK. It is likely that Cameron’s success in reaching out to the moderate vote in Britain will be something for McCain to take note of should he be nominated as the Republic candidate for the 2008 presidential election.
As leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron has moved the Conservatives to the Centre in an attempt to bring the Party into power for the first time in a decade. Republicans in the United States are in a completely different situation as the Republicans have been in the White House for two terms and at the moment hold a majority of the seats in Congress. While the Conservatives in Britain are attempting to attract more moderate voters by making the party more inclusive, it is most likely Republicans will have to follow this trend.
The Republicans’ move further right under the Bush administration over the last six years has left moderate voters alienated within the party. McCain has attempted to counter this and project himself as a more moderate Republican than George W. Bush; most recently he spoke out against and amended the Detainee Bill. This rebellion against Bush has provided with an opportunity to appear more moderate. On other issues McCain is nowhere near as moderate as Cameron. On abortion, for example, McCain is pro-life, yet he supports regulated stem-cell research. He has also voted in favour of ‘intelligent design’ theory versus evolution theory, which clearly caters to members of the religious right. These may be tactics to earn trust among a conservative Republican base, but Independent voters should take note that Mr. McCain is indeed a conservative, and has said so many times himself.
Despite his conservative base and his own conservative tendencies, Mr. McCain likely wants to promote an image that is closer to the centre as the Republican Party attempts to reconcile itself with moderate voters, especially prized ‘Independent’ voters who do not hold deep seated party loyalties. In an interview with The Times, McCain emphasized his strategy of ‘expanding to the centre once you have established your base’ in order to win elections. It is a move he will certainly have to make if he is to win a US Presidential election in 2008. First though, Mr. McCain will need to capture the Republican Primary, which will mean that he must in many ways cater to the staunch conservatives, especially the Christian right.
Mr. Cameron does not face such a problem at the moment, and as such he can focus on building up national support for a Conservative victory in the next General Election. Cameron’s speech was heavily centred on family, society, and the NHS in Britain, however, when the topic of foreign policy arose, the special relationship between the UK and the US was a focal point. Cameron labelled Tony Blair as being ‘slavish’ to America and emphasized that he felt the relationship should be more ‘steadfast,’ although he walked a fine line between being ‘steadfast’ and ‘anti-American’ by referencing the presence of John McCain during his speech. There is, however, little substance in Mr. Cameron’s foreign policy and it remains to be seen what distinct policies Mr. Cameron would pursue vis-à-vis the United States, should he manage to take power from Labour.
For McCain, the special relationship, as well as other foreign policy issues, will be another aspect for reform within the Republican Party. Security is still a large concern for the American public with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continuing on into the foreseeable future and the American public will most likely want a departure from some of Bush’s foreign policies. He will therefore need to maintain and forge links with the UK if he is to achieve his goals of creating a more multilateral US foreign policy. The challenge for McCain in moving the party to the centre is to emphasize a dedication to security, while simultaneously cooperating with allies. Partnering up with moderate conservatives in Europe could perhaps be the first step. If so, he might import some of Cameron’s moves in an attempt to keep the executive branch in the hands of the Republicans come 2008.
Kathleen Durkin, International Security Studies Department