Matthews ignored McCain positions on hot-button GOP issues in claiming McCain "is not actually one of them"


Chris Matthews said that if Republicans choose Sen. John McCain as their 2008 presidential candidate, they will have "vote[d] for somebody who is not actually one of them." Matthews then mentioned five hot-button issues that he said "aren't the issues [McCain] talks about." In fact, on three of those issues, McCain is very much "one of them."

On the March 13 edition of MSNBC's Hardball, host Chris Matthews suggested that if Republicans choose Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) as their 2008 presidential candidate, they will have "vote[d] for somebody who is not actually one of them." Matthews made his comments during a discussion with Chuck Todd -- editor in chief of National Journal's The Hotline weblog -- about the recent Southern Republican Leadership Conference (SRLC) in Memphis, Tennessee, which featured speeches by McCain and other Republican presidential hopefuls. Matthews asserted that the five issues he said "came out of" the meeting -- same-sex marriage, abortion, illegal immigration, taxes, and judicial nominees -- "aren't the issues he [McCain] talks about."

But while Matthews may be right that McCain did not talk about those issues in his SRLC speech -- he reportedly focused on his support for President's Bush's foreign policy and called for cuts in congressional spending -- he is wrong to suggest that McCain is out of the Republican mainstream on most of those issues. Indeed, on three of the five issues Matthews mentioned -- abortion, judicial nominees, and taxes -- McCain has recently taken positions that are very much in line with those of conservative Republicans.

  • Abortion

According to Matthews, the SRLC participants' position on abortion rights was "no abortion."

On February 28, McCain said through a spokesman, quoted by The Hotline (subscription required), that if McCain was governor of South Dakota, he "would have signed" South Dakota's recently passed law banning all abortions except in cases in which the mother's life is at stake. Doctors who violate the law could be sentenced to as many as five years in prison. In the statement, McCain's spokesman added that McCain "would also take the appropriate steps under state law -- in whatever state -- to ensure that the exceptions of rape, incest or life of the mother were included." But as Media Matters for America has noted, there were no "rape" or "incest" exceptions included in the bill that McCain would have signed, and McCain made no attempt to reconcile this apparent contradiction.

As The Washington Post noted on February 23, the South Dakota law that McCain supported "was designed to challenge" Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision that established the constitutional right to an abortion. The Post explained that the bill's "sponsors want to force a reexamination of the ruling by the court, which now includes two justices appointed by President Bush."

In a January 25 appearance on CBS' The Early Show, McCain told anchor Julie Chen that he had never supported Roe and suggested that it "wouldn't bother" him if abortion were banned:

CHEN: Do you think with him [Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.] sitting on the bench, we're going to see this nation shift to the right on social issues? For example: abortion. Do you see it one day being banned?

McCAIN: I don't know. In his testimony, he intimated, as did [Chief] Justice [John] Roberts [Jr.], that they would not change the status quo. But I don't know the answer to that. I've never agreed with Roe v. Wade, so it wouldn't bother me any.

In 2003, McCain voted against an amendment to the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act (which McCain supported) expressing the sense of the Senate that "the decision of the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade ... was appropriate and secures an important constitutional right; and such decision should not be overturned."

In 2003-2004, McCain received an 82-percent rating from the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC). McCain's only two votes against the NRLC position came from his opposition to the Medicare Modernization Act, which was supported by NRLC but had nothing to do with abortion. (McCain received a 100-percent NRLC rating in 2005, but the rating included only one vote.) In those same years, McCain received a 0-percent rating from NARAL-Pro Choice America.

  • Judicial Appointments

According to Matthews, SRLC participants would support a candidate who would "keep appointing conservative justices."

On the July 21, 2005, edition of Hardball, McCain told Matthews that he is "to the right" on the spectrum of judicial selection politics because he "believe[s] that we should have judges that strictly interpret the Constitution of the United States." McCain added that "the American voter was very well aware of what kind of judge the president of the United States was going to appoint and they decided to re-elect him."

McCain voted to confirm both Roberts and Alito. In a January 25 floor statement announcing his decision to support Alito, McCain said that during the 2004 presidential campaign, Bush "stated plainly and often that, if given the opportunity, he would nominate conservative judges to the Supreme Court. True to his promise, the President nominated John Roberts to become the 18th Chief Justice of the United States. Just as true, he nominated Samuel Alito to serve as an Associate Justice of the Court." McCain added, "I was pleased that the President nominated Judge Alito."

On the May 15, 2005, edition of ABC's This Week, McCain told host George Stephanopoulos that he "wanted to see every one of George Bush's nominees confirmed":

McCAIN: I believe that as reasonable people as we have in the past in the Senate, we should sit down together and work this out. The Democrats never should have filibustered all of those judges that they did. It was an abuse of the filibuster. I think they recognize that. I think that that's why compromise is in the air. And I wanted to see every one of George Bush's nominees confirmed.

And in an article in the May 30, 2005, issue of The New Yorker magazine, Connie Bruck wrote that during McCain's campaign for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination, he privately assured Gary Bauer -- who had dropped out of the race -- that as president, he would nominate judges opposed to abortion rights:

McCain had hoped that South Carolina's large veteran population would help him win there; but the Christian Coalition, deeply entrenched in the state, became the decisive constituency. Somewhat surprisingly, McCain had the support of Gary Bauer, the social conservative, who had dropped out of the race by that time. "I wanted a commitment from either George Bush or John McCain that if elected he would appoint pro-life judges to the Supreme Court," Bauer told me. "Bush said he had no litmus test, and his judges would be strict constructionists. But McCain, in private, assured me he would appoint pro-life judges."

  • Taxes

According to Matthews, SRLC participants wanted a presidential nominee who would "keep cutting taxes."

McCain opposed many of Bush's first-term tax cuts. But in February, McCain voted to extend $70 billion worth of tax cuts -- including cuts in the dividends and capital gains taxes -- an action that New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote (subscription required) "will worsen the budget deficit while mainly benefiting people with very high incomes." In a February 27 article, Washington Times chief political correspondent Donald Lambro described McCain's support for tax cuts as "a move conservatives say is a political flip-flop intended to further his White House ambitions." Lambro quoted Americans for Tax Reform president Grover G. Norquist saying of McCain: "It's a big flip-flop, but I'm happy he's flopped."

From the March 13 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:

MATTHEWS: And the question's: What comes out of it all? My feeling is issues came out of it, not winners and losers. And all I heard, Chuck, this weekend, were marriage, the sanctity of marriage -- male and female, no gay marriage; abortion -- no abortion; immigration -- lock it up, stop the illegal coming into this country; and keep cutting taxes; and keep appointing conservative justices. I'm not sure John McCain meets that bill in terms of passion.

TODD: Well, it doesn't and that's --

MATTHEWS: Those aren't the issues he talks about.

TODD: And that's why that the most important things for McCain are coming up in the future, and that is: Do the Republicans win or lose the 2006 elections? If they have a poor night in November 2006, John -- that's a good night for John McCain for president of 2008.


TODD: Because then Republicans are going to worry about electability. Suddenly, that's going to jump.

MATTHEWS: So, they are going to vote for somebody who is not actually one of them?

TODD: If that's the case. That's how George W. Bush was able to break away from the pack in '98.

Chris Matthews
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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