Ignoring pattern of politically expedient reversals, NBC's Gregory claimed McCain “is not going to pander to the right”

NBC's David Gregory stated: “John McCain is not going to pander to the right. He did that once and it didn't work.” The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson and MSNBC analyst Pat Buchanan both agreed, asserting: “He's not going to do it.” In fact, McCain has attempted to satisfy conservative Republicans by reversing his positions on issues such as taxes, immigration, and the religious right.

During the 8 p.m. ET hour of MSNBC's coverage of the Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., primaries, while discussing former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee's (R) suggestion that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) adopt conservative parts of his platform, NBC correspondent David Gregory stated: “John McCain is not going to pander to the right. He did that once and it didn't work.” Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson and MSNBC analyst Patrick Buchanan agreed, both asserting: “He's not going to do it.” In fact, McCain has attempted to satisfy conservative Republicans by reversing his positions on issues such as taxes, immigration, and the religious right:

  • Tax cuts. After opposing President Bush's tax cuts in 2001, McCain voted against legislation in 2003 to accelerate the tax reductions enacted in the 2001 bill and to cut taxes on dividends and capital gains. In 2006, however, he voted for the bill extending some of the 2003 tax cuts. When asked during the April 2, 2006, broadcast of NBC's 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.” A Wall Street Journal editorial on February 18, 2006 -- headlined “McCain's Tax Reversal” -- suggested that McCain's “reversal” was politically motivated, stating: “Our guess is that Mr. McCain may also be looking ahead to the 2008 GOP Presidential primaries, which won't be kind to candidates who've voted for tax increases.”

Additionally, McCain has repeatedly claimed during his presidential campaign that he initially opposed the Bush tax cuts because they were not accompanied by offsetting spending cuts, even though he made no mention of spending cuts in his 2001 floor statement. Indeed, in his floor statement, McCain said that while he supported an earlier version of the bill “that provided more tax relief to middle income Americans,” he could not “in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle class Americans who most need tax relief.”

  • Immigration. McCain has reversed his position on immigration -- more closely conforming to the views of the GOP base -- in at least two regards: While McCain now says that border security must be addressed before any other reforms can be made, he previously said that border security could not be disaggregated from other provisions in legislation on comprehensive immigration reform, or else it would be ineffective. A November 4, 2007, Associated Press article about McCain's change in position noted that his prior support for comprehensive immigration reform “hurt him politically,” and quoted McCain stating: “I understand why you would call it a, quote, shift. ... I say it is a lesson learned about what the American people's priorities are. And their priority is to secure the borders.”

Additionally, during CNN's January 30 Republican presidential debate, McCain asserted that he “would not” now support his own comprehensive immigration proposal if it came to a vote on the Senate floor.

  • Religious right. During his 2000 presidential run, McCain called Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson “agents of intolerance,” asserting: “Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell on the right." However, McCain stated on the April 2, 2006, edition of NBC's Meet the Press that he no longer believed Falwell was an “agent of intolerance.” Subsequently, McCain delivered the commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University in May 2006. A May 14, 2006, Los Angeles Times article (retrieved from the Nexis database) described McCain's address as “an olive branch to Christian conservatives who could impede his presidential ambitions.” The Times also noted that "[a]fter McCain accepted the invitation, critics accused him of pandering for political purposes."

In a February 5 article and sidebar, Washington Post staff writer Michael Dobbs documented several McCain “flip-flops,” including on immigration, taxes, and the religious right.

Additionally, McCain admitted that during the 2000 South Carolina primary he pandered to Republican primary voters by failing to take a consistent position on whether the Confederate flag should fly atop South Carolina's Capitol dome. As reported in an April 20, 2000, New York Times article, McCain said that the flag was a “symbol of racism and slavery” but on the very next day called it a “symbol of heritage.”

Indeed, in an April 20, 2000, speech, McCain stated that he had “compromise[d]” his “principles” in his statements on the flag:

McCAIN: My ancestors fought for the Confederacy, and I am sure that many, maybe all of them, fought with courage and with faith that they were serving a cause greater than themselves. But I don't believe their service, however distinguished, needs to be commemorated in a way that offends, that deeply hurts, people whose ancestors were once denied their freedom by my ancestors.


As I admitted, I should have done this earlier, when an honest answer could have affected me personally. I did not do so for one reason alone. I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary. So, I chose to compromise my principles. I broke my promise to always tell the truth.

From the 8 p.m. hour of MSNBC's February 12 primary coverage:

BUCHANAN: I'm astonished, however, in Virginia, where you've got [Sen. John] Warner [R-VA] and the two former governors and George Allen endorsed McCain. He's been down there. Huckabee just shows up, he's running in a dead heat in Virginia. It shows you the depth of hostility among conservatives and Republicans to the idea of a McCain nomination. McCain won it initially, frankly, by, you know, clever scheduling and the right people running in various campaigns --

GREGORY: But when does it get old? When does the party say enough? You're a clear number two, enough.

ROBINSON: I think John McCain says enough when you ask McCain to go back on McCain-Feingold. I mean that's very, that's really in your face to John McCain.

GREGORY: It's the first time I've heard Huckabee say this is what McCain ought to be running on.

BUCHANAN: You tell the party where to go. You tell the party where to go if you're wanting to be the leader yourself. You don't have someone calling you up --

ROBINSON: But with that, you're not going to have an impact on John McCain, though.

BUCHANAN: Forget McCain. Look, if you're running for this thing yourself and somebody calls you up, you forget the phone calls, you run as hard as you can. Pay no attention to them.

RACHEL MADDOW (MSNBC analyst): I feel like what Mike Huckabee is trying to get from John McCain here is McCain's head. If he wins Virginia, and that means that, as Tim [Russert, NBC Washington bureau chief] just said, if that means that McCain cannot lock this up, he cannot ascend until May 6, the three months of hell he's about to put the Republican Party for? He's playing for keeps.

BUCHANAN: You don't want to take his head, though. You don't want to be responsible for the defeat. Once Huckabee drops out and this thing is over in May. He steps up there, he endorses McCain, he asks for nothing but a speech at the convention, he endorses him strongly, all this will be in the past. You don't want to take McCain down if you want to be the leader of the party.

GREGORY: Is it realistic to ask John McCain to take parts of your platform? John McCain is not going to pander to the right. He did that once and it didn't work.

ROBINSON: He's not going to do it.

BUCHANAN: He's not going to do it and he shouldn't do it.

MADDOW: He knows the right won't come around to him, no matter what he does. You know, the --

BUCHANAN: What's going to bring the right around to McCain is Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. It ain't John McCain.