On The Tim Russert Show, David Gregory asserted that Sen. John McCain has “got a pretty strong brand identity as being a maverick and being anti-politics and anti-Washington” without noting McCain's efforts to satisfy conservative Republicans during the primary, including his rapprochement with the religious right and his rightward shift on issues such as immigration and taxes.
On the April 19 edition of MSNBC's The Tim Russert Show, NBC chief White House correspondent David Gregory, who also hosts MSNBC's Race for the White House, asserted that Sen. John McCain has “got a pretty strong brand identity as being a maverick and being anti-politics and anti-Washington.” But while claiming that McCain is or is perceived to be “anti-politics,” Gregory did not address McCain's efforts to win the votes of conservative Republicans during the primary, including his rapprochement with the religious right and his rightward shift on issues such as immigration and taxes. Further, Gregory's assertion that McCain is or is perceived to be “anti-Washington” overlooks the fact that McCain has served in Washington for 26 years, since being sworn in as a member of the House of Representatives in 1982, and that his campaign reportedly has more current and former lobbyists on staff or as advisers, and more current and former lobbyist fundraising bundlers, than any other campaign. Moreover, Gregory's assertion that McCain has “a pretty strong brand identity as being a maverick” fails to acknowledge the role that the media -- and, more specifically, Gregory's NBC and MSNBC colleagues -- have had in promoting that “brand.”
In contrast to Gregory, other media figures have suggested that McCain's shifts on key issues and ties to Washington lobbyists could undermine his campaign's assertions that he is a candidate “who does not pander to voters” and who maintains an “antipolitician label.” For example, The New York Times' Elisabeth Bumiller wrote in a March 3 article:
Senator John McCain likes to present himself as the candidate of the “Straight Talk Express” who does not pander to voters or change his positions with the political breeze. But the fine print of his record in the Senate indicates that he has been a lot less consistent on some of his signature issues than he has presented himself to be so far in his presidential campaign.
Mr. McCain, who derided his onetime Republican competitor Mitt Romney for his political mutability, has himself meandered over the years from position to position on some topics, particularly as he has tried to court the conservatives who have long distrusted him.
Bumiller noted that McCain has made a “striking turnaround ... on the Bush tax cuts, which he voted against twice but now wants to make permanent” and that he has “moved from his original position on immigration.” Bumiller further noted that “McCain went so far at a debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in January to say that if his original [immigration] proposal came to a vote on the Senate floor, he would not vote for it.” She also wrote: “To the degree that he is shifting to the right, he is shoring up his standing among conservatives.”
In addition, The Boston Globe's Brian Mooney wrote in an April 20 article that McCain's maverick image “has been scuffed on his way to becoming the presumptive Republican presidential nominee,” adding:
To woo the GOP's conservative base, McCain has repositioned himself to align with the party mainstream on some key issues and downplayed others that once defined his independence.
Along the way, McCain has made clear that despite a flair for the impolitic or unpredictable, he hews more closely to conservative Republican orthodoxy than his rebel reputation suggests.
McCain insists he has never budged from his lifelong belief in less government and less taxation. But whoever wins the Democratic nomination will surely argue that behind McCain's antipolitician label, he has always been cozy with the agents of the special interests he rails against.
The policy shifts are evident: He abandoned comprehensive immigration reform last year as it threatened to sink his candidacy and is supporting tax cuts for the wealthy he had criticized for years and twice voted against in the Senate. And he has all but ignored the signature issues that framed the 2000 portrait of a maverick: campaign finance reform and a crackdown on the tobacco industry.
Compared with his 2000 insurgency, a doomed high-wire act that was short of money, staff, research, and policy papers, the McCain campaign of 2008 also has come under fire for its reliance on elite Washington lobbyists -- 66 by one recent tally -- who work for or are helping his campaign. News stories in recent weeks have questioned McCain actions that benefited political supporters or clients of friendly lobbyists.
From the April 19 edition of MSNBC's The Tim Russert Show:
GREGORY: Well, I do think that's natural. I mean, you know, there's so much scrutiny. All the negatives are playing out, as we've been talking about over these past few weeks. So it does lead you to say, “Maybe we've got the wrong horses here. Maybe this isn't going to work.”
You know, I think it's more likely than not the Democratic Party does come together behind the nominee despite how passionate and, at times, divisive this primary battle -- and protracted this battle has become. There's no question, you know, this does appear to be a Democratic year, but the Republicans, I think, were smart to nominate John McCain because he's not your average Republican. And he's got a pretty strong brand identity as being a maverick and being anti-politics and anti-Washington. He's got a lot of cards to play here.
RUSSERT: Was it a smart calculation or did they stumble into it?
GREGORY: I think they totally stumbled into it.
CHUCK TODD (NBC News political director): That's the other giant story of this campaign.
GREGORY: I'd like to think that all Republicans around the country thought, “We should just move as one body here.”
TODD: But you know, it strikes me in John McCain, I can't think of a single voting group that is ecstatic that John McCain is the nominee. And that, I wonder -- does that become a problem in the fall? That there isn't one voting group who's just, like -- you know, you have, with young voters and African-Americans, you have older women -- with Obama. You have older women with Clinton. There -- what is the voting group that sits there and says, “Ah, our guy.” You know, he basically became everybody's second choice.
RUSSERT: But on the other -- conversely, who does he antagonize? The anti-war base.
TODD: And that's really --
RUSSERT: But on immigration and on campaign finance reform and on global warming, there's not that anger towards him that would be towards some of the other Republicans.
GREGORY: Chuck made this point earlier: The left is on fire in this country. They have -- and I've seen it from my perch at the White House, that early in the Bush administration, they were disorganized and they were dormant. Even about the war. And then all of a sudden, after '04, the left really started to get organized on the Internet and in a grassroots way. And they are active. They are ready to turn out. But they are more than just going to -- prepared to turn out. They are really, really revved up. And I don't know if we're going to see that on the right this time.