A Gannett News Service article claimed that John McCain "has built up such a straight-talker image that any aroma of pandering or changing positions to placate conservatives would expose him to the flip-flopping label he has pinned on [Mitt] Romney." In fact, on two of the issues cited -- taxes and immigration -- McCain has changed his positions to more closely align himself with the base of the Republican Party, which the article didn't note.
In a February 6 article -- which carried the headline "McCain's goal is to woo the right without compromising" in the Detroit Free Press -- Gannett News Service political editor Chuck Raasch wrote that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) "has upset all three wings of the GOP coalition," such as "[f]iscal conservatives [who] were bewildered that McCain opposed President George W. Bush's tax cuts in 2001" and "foreign policy conservatives," who say McCain "was offering amnesty to lawbreakers in an immigration reform bill also supported by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., whom conservatives passionately dislike." Raasch later asserted that McCain "has built up such a straight-talker image that any aroma of pandering or changing positions to placate conservatives would expose him to the flip-flopping label he has pinned on [Mitt] Romney, the former Massachusetts governor." Yet Raasch failed to note that on two of the issues he cited -- taxes and immigration -- McCain has changed his positions to more closely align himself with the base of the Republican Party.
After opposing the Bush tax cuts in 2001, McCain voted against legislation in 2003 to accelerate the tax reductions enacted in the 2001 bill and to cut dividends and capital-gains taxes. In 2006, however, he voted for the bill extending the 2003 tax cuts. When asked during the April 2, 2006, broadcast of Meet the Press why he had changed his position, McCain replied: "I do not believe in tax increases. ... The tax cuts are now there and voting to revoke them would have been to -- not to extend them would have meant a tax increase." Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, reportedly said at the time: "It's a big flip-flop, but I'm happy that he's flopped."
A press release on McCain's campaign website states, "John McCain will make the Bush income and investment tax cuts permanent, keeping income tax rates at their current level."
Regarding immigration, McCain has reversed his position on a key element of the immigration debate: He once called for comprehensive reform that addressed the creation of a guest-worker program, a path to citizenship, and border security, arguing that border security would be ineffective "no matter how formidable the barriers" without the establishment of a "temporary worker program," but now says border security must be addressed before other reforms can be made. A November 4, 2007, Associated Press article about McCain's change in position on immigration quoted him telling reporters that "I understand why you would call it a, quote, shift" and that "I say it is a lesson learned about what the American people's priorities are. And their priority is to secure the borders."
Further, McCain has made inconsistent statements on whether he would support his own immigration bill. During CNN's January 30 Republican presidential debate, McCain asserted that he "would not" support his own comprehensive immigration proposal if it came to a vote on the Senate floor, despite having stated on the January 27 edition of NBC's Meet the Press that he would sign that very legislation into law if he were elected president. In a February 5 column, nationally syndicated conservative columnist Mona Charen noted McCain's changes on immigration and asserted that "his own flip-flops leave him with a huge H (for hypocrite) on his forehead when he singes Mr. Romney for opportunism."
From Raasch's February 7 Gannett News Service article:
What McCain does and says next will determine whether he can win over doubters, including popular talk show host Rush Limbaugh and American Conservative Union President David Keene, who says McCain has "sneeringly" disrespected conservatives for years.
Since first running for president in 2000, McCain has upset all three wings of the GOP coalition.
-- Social conservatives are angry that he pushed through campaign finance reform that they believe hurts their ability to communicate during elections.
-- Fiscal conservatives were bewildered that McCain opposed President George W. Bush's tax cuts in 2001.
-- And foreign policy conservatives believe he was offering amnesty to lawbreakers in an immigration reform bill that also was supported by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., whom conservatives passionately dislike.
On his radio show Wednesday, Limbaugh suggested conservatives face a choice of either "sitting it out and letting these guys die in a landslide" or join in the fight against Democrats.
"The moderates in our party pay no price for sabotaging the party," Limbaugh said.
Some Republicans are likening this period in the campaign to 1964 when Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller fought a sharp ideological fight for the GOP nomination and the conservative Goldwater lost the general election in a landslide to Democrat Lyndon Johnson, and to 1976 when Ronald Reagan carried the conservative mantle against President Gerald R. Ford.
Conservatives believe both losses eventually led to the Reagan Revolution of 1980. McCain frequently refers to himself as a "foot soldier" in that revolution.
GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway suggests McCain opponent Mitt Romney faces a choice similar to Reagan's in 1976: Fight on in what looks like a losing cause in 2008 or regroup as the conservative choice in 2012.
McCain has portrayed himself as a principled conservative who sometimes has deviated from conservative orthodoxy but says his ability to reach out to Democrats on issues like global warming and immigration will help him attract independents and Reagan Democrats. He has surrounded himself with conservative icons like Jack Kemp, Steve Forbes and Phil Gramm.
"Do we have a lot of work to do to unite the entire party? Sure," McCain told reporters Wednesday in Phoenix. But he said he believes conservatives will rally to him as Democratic presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama "move further and further to the left."
But McCain is also in a self-constructed box.
He has built up such a straight talker image that any aroma of pandering or changing positions to placate conservatives would expose him to the flip-flopping label he has pinned on Romney, the former Massachusetts governor. McCain has a far more cordial relationship with another primary foe, ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who also has been accused of not being conservative enough for some Republicans.