Well, the dust has settled from the 2012 legislative session, and organizations like National Journal and American Conservative Union have published their annual voting reports. So who are the 'top conservatives'? You'll never guess.
Here is a list of the 'top conservatives' from National Journal and the ACU, along with their composite conservative scores. Check out this link for the description of ACU's scorecard and this link for National Journal's methodology.
1. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) 89.7
1. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) 89.7
1. John Cornyn (R-Texas) 89.7
1. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) 89.7
1. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) 89.7
1. John McCain (R-Ariz.) 89.7
1. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) 89.7
1. John Thune (R-S.D.) 89.7
9. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) 87.3
10.Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) 86.8
American Conservative Union
1. John Barrasso-100%
1. Sam Brownback- 100%
1. Saxby Chambliss-100%
1. Tom Coburn-100%
1. John Cornyn-100%
1. Mike Crapo-100%
1. Jim DeMint-100%
1. Orrin Hatch-100%
1. John McCain-100%
1. James Risch-100%
1. Jeff Sessions-100%
1. John Thune-100%
I'm sure everyone would like to know how the likes of John McCain made it to both lists along with Jim DeMint. Well, for one thing, the ACU only scores 25 votes and although the National Journal scores 100 votes, they have not published their descriptions. More importantly, these reports prove two things; the effectiveness of grassroots conservatives and the inherent flaws of legislative scorecards.
Many grassroots conservative activists, including those in our Red State community, have been impugned for our supposed effrontery to incumbent Republicans. We have been ridiculed for daring to challenge such inimitable and infallible public servants who have earned their seniority through years of selfless sacrifice. At times, we have been accused of targeting incumbents with 'impeccable conservative credentials' in impetuous pursuit of ideological purity. Worst of all, we are charged with sabotaging Republicans in the general election.
Those voices within the Republican establishment blithely overlook the ancillary successes of our intra-party challenges. Our bold efforts to challenge incumbents have often resulted in one of two outcomes, both of which benefit Republicans of every stripe.
The first outcome results in the incumbent initially denying the charge of being a RINO. Then, as the conservative challenger overtakes him, he validates the accusation by shedding the conservative disguise and openly voting with the left on every significant issue (Bennett in Utah, Murkowski). In some cases, they have actually switched parties (Crist, Specter), or at the very least, refused to endorse their victorious primary opponent (Mike Castle, Dede Scozzafava). Even the 'big tent' Republicans cannot deny our indispensable service in outing those who are an anathema to Republican values. Or is the big tent just one big circus?
The second outcome results in the Republican incumbent undergoing a cathartic change by extolling all of the conservative virtues that they so vociferously rejected prior to the primary challenge. John McCain has become the champion of election year foxhole conversions. In addition to McCain's stellar National Journal score, he has also joined 11 other Senators in earning a perfect 100 from the American Conservative Union in 2010. McCain also earned a 96 the year prior to the election in 2009. However, his performance was dismal in the previous few years. It is incontrovertibly clear that grassroots conservatives have been successful in reining-in McCain, along with some of the Senators who are up for reelection in 2012.
However, are these pre-election foxhole conversions really sincere? There is a flagrant weakness in relying on legislative scorecards and thus allowing elected officials to use them to validate their conservatism. Scorecards only account for the final votes on passage of fundamental issues that distinguish the two parties. Most voting reports largely ignore roll calls on cloture or motions to proceed. They are completely silent on the full scope of committee activity, including markups, amendments, votes, and backroom deals. There is no way to possibly contrast the indefatigable efforts of Jim DeMint to promote constitutional government with those who work to get things done.
The voting report cannot possibly quantify the amount of times that John McCain worked assiduously to obviate a conservative proposal so that it would not come to a vote. (You can't exactly quantify the Gang of 14.)
The scorecard certainly will not evaluate well intentioned, yet mistaken, efforts by John Barrasso to exempt states from the ObamaCare individual mandate, thus precluding their grounds for a lawsuit.
No legislative report will calculate the amount of pork that Roger Wicker stuffed into appropriations bills before they reached the floor.
Thus, while some of the aforementioned Republicans will eagerly promote their scorecard as a conservative stamp of approval, it is not.
Except for those like Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins, and Dick Lugar, most Republicans will vote with their party on the final roll call of major bills. In fact, anyone who is not on the list of 100% is someone who has voted with the Democrats in contravention to fundamental Republican values. A perfect ACU score should be the floor, not the ceiling, for a conservative voting record.
As we head into the 2012 elections, many Republicans will condemn our primary challenges as party purges. Some senators will point to the fact that they earned the same score as DeMint. We will need to inform them that there is more to being the people's representative than a couple of roll call votes. We will remind them that we know Jim DeMint, and you are no Jim DeMint.
Cross-posted to Red State.com