John McCain

The Washington Post ran a story today about the frequency with which backtracking has become the rule and not the exception this campaign season.

Say what? The 2008 presidential campaign theme could be “Oops! What I meant was …”

Just about every Republican and Democrat has flubbed an answer to a question or made a borderline inappropriate comment _ some so uncomfortable they make you cringe _ only to take back the remarks or seek to clarify them later when under fire.

This month alone, Republican Mitt Romney backtracked from a comment about his sons’ lack of military service. Rival Rudy Giuliani retreated from his suggestion that he spent as much time as Sept. 11 rescue workers at the ground zero site and was exposed to the same health risks. Democrat Bill Richardson stumbled over a question about whether homosexuality was a choice. All sought to skirt controversy by quickly explaining themselves.

It is happening so often, “you’d think it’s deliberate!” quipped G. Terry Madonna, a pollster at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania.

Joking aside, he said: “I don’t think you can go through this grueling ordeal and not find even the most seasoned politician who isn’t susceptible to misspeaking or a malaprop here or there. We’re seeing some genuinely real moments as these candidates are in the pressure cooker.”

Chalk up the glut of apologies and clarifications to changing times.

Candidates of all stripes have become extremely sensitive to the Internet era and painfully aware of video-sharing Web sites such as YouTube that allow images and audio to be posted online immediately.



Many observers of the 2008 run for the White House view John McCain’s support of the Iraq War as the Senator’s biggest liability and why he could likely lose the Republican presidential nomination. However, in response to criticism that he was one of the war’s biggest supporters, McCain recently told Kiran Chetry, host of CNN’s American Morning, that, 

“…I was the greatest critic of the initial four years, three and a half years. I came back from my first trip to Iraq and said, ‘This is going to fail. We’ve got to change the strategy to the one we’re using now.'”

In the early stages of the war, however, McCain painted a fairly different picture on numerous occasions.

He told then Today Show host Katie Couric on March 20, 2003, “But I believe, Katie, that the Iraqi people will greet us as liberators.” Earlier that month on March 7th, he told ABC’s This Week, “I’m confident we’re on the right course. … I am confident that an imperfect democracy is what we’ll get out of Iraq will be vastly superior to what the people of Iraq had prior to this.” Eight months later on October 31, McCain told CBS News, “I think the initial phases of it [the war] were so spectacularly successful that it took us all by surprise.”  On the September 21, 2004, McCain further asserted on MSNBC’s Hardball, “Have mistakes been made? Yes. But the necessity of winning, I believe, is overwhelming. And I think that President Bush is presenting a clear picture of the benefits of success and the consequences of failure.” And on December 8, 2005, McCain told The Hill, “I do think that progress is being made in a lot of Iraq. Overall, I think a year from now, we will have made a fair amount of progress if we stay the course. If I thought we weren’t making progress, I’d be despondent.”

Senator McCain has claimed for some time that he was initially critical of President Bush. A February 22, 2007 Los Angeles Times article discussed that, “McCain said his criticism started three years ago ‘when I saw that this train wreck was taking place, and that we needed more troops, and we needed a different strategy.'” Click to read the full text of the article. (more…)


The McCain campaign has noted a number of Mitt Romney’s policy/rhetorical shifts over the past few weeks, including such issues as stem cells, immigration, and abortion.  Now the ex-governor from Massachusetts, or at least his campaign staffers, have struck back against Senator McCain in an attempt to derail the so-called “straight talk express.”

Michael Cooper of the New York Times’ “Caucus” political blog reports that the Romney camp is publicizing a discrepancy between McCain’s campaign rhetoric and his voting record regarding the U.S. Information Agency.  Until the public diplomacy agency’s duties were folded into the State Department in 1999, it sought to promote and publicize official U.S. policies and positions to foreign governments and populations.

Excerpts from a speech McCain was scheduled to deliver in Palm Beach, Florida find the Senator advocating reconstituting the Information Agency as an independent body.

“Dismantling an agency dedicated to promoting America and the American message amounted to unilateral disarmament in the struggle of ideas,’’ he will say, according to excerpts of the speech obtained from the campaign.

As the Romney campaign points out, though, this opinion is apparently at odds with his Senate voting record:

The Romney campaign lost no time in pointing out to reporters that Mr. McCain voted for the 1998 bill that merged the United States Information Agency with the State Department – a bill that also authorized payments to the United Nations and authorized spending for the State Department.

While the Romney campaign is certainly correct that McCain’s new statement represents a direct departure from the bill for which he voted nearly ten years ago, the actual significance and relevance of this point requires a few caveats.


The Boston Globe ran an article yesterday about John McCain’s consistency on controversial immigration legislation. According to the Globe, “And he may never be the Republican presidential nominee, either. That could be the price of standing for what he believes in.”

A related Boston Globe article today on McCain’s positions on immigration reform commented

“He [McCain] also said the nature of the debate over immigration reflected the ‘deterioration of the political discourse in America today.’

One of the toughest amendments, McCain said, is one that would require illegal immigrants to return to their home country before  applying for a ‘Z visa,’ which the bill would create to allow them to legally work in the United States.

…McCain said conservatives who want to focus exclusively on securing America’s borders are missing a major part of the problem: that 40 percent of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States are here because they overstayed their visas, not because they entered the country illegally.

As he did in 2000, McCain has staked his candidacy in part on his authenticity, often saying that it’s more important to him to do what is right than to win an election. His support for overhauling immigration laws is hampering his outreach to conservatives, and his outspoken support for the war in Iraq appears to be pushing independents away from him.”

After criticizing Mitt Romney’s abortion flip-flop last week, John McCain has struck again.  A blog entry at the New York Times discusses the McCain campaign’s latest allegations that Mitt Romney flip-flopped on the hot-button issue of public funding for embryonic stem cell research.

On abortion, Romney has clearly switched his position — it’s up to the individual voter to decide if he flip-flopped or if he changed his mind for non-political reasons.  But do these stem cell charges hold water?

The McCain campaign’s charge relies on this video of a March 2005 press conference:

Then-Governor Romney repeatedly states that he supports stem cell research within “ethical boundaries” and that (in Massachusetts at least) it should be researched as part of a broader approach:

ROMNEY: I’m looking forward to seeing what bill comes forward, I believe that stem cell research is important for our state and for our nation, and I also believe that there should be ethical lines drawn around the appropriate research, but stem cell research is important, and I’ll support it, and I’m gonna continue to encourage ethical lines to be drawn in a way that respects human life.

Asked whether both public and private funding should go to stem cell research, Romney responded with a focus on economics rather than the usual social politics:


John McCain has often criticized lawmakers of pork barreling, supporting wasteful spending simply to demonstrate to constituents they can bring home the bacon. Today, in his most recent attack, McCain accused Senator Hillary Clinton of pushing for wasteful earmarks for her state. But Hillary might not be the only one who likes the taste of pork. Newsday reports,

“Speaking to reporters outside a fundraiser in Los Angeles [yesterday], McCain charged Clinton with larding a recently passed defense appropriations bill with $150 million in home-state earmarks – $43 million of which went to Long Island.

The Arizona Republican, who has fallen from GOP frontrunner to third place in many national polls, chided Clinton for pushing projects ‘the Pentagon had no request for and had no need for.’

He promised to introduce legislation to block senators from earmarking in the future.”

For those political neophytes out there, a brief overview of pork and of congressional votes…For the rest of you, skip to the next paragraph. Clearly, passing legislation is never simple. There are all sorts of complicated reasons to vote for or against a bill that are not always apparent at face value. Senators and representatives sometimes vote in favor of one bill because while they might oppose certain aspects of the legislation, other measures that they support are grouped together in the same bill–so they have no choice but to cast a “yea.” In other instances, a member might vote against a measure he or she essentially supports in some respects in hopes of writing better legislation. And sometimes members trade votes with one piece of legislation for another. So the perception of votes and of pork is difficult, making it very easy to misinterpret votes and pork–especially since pork is usually grouped together with more pressing legislation, which allows members to justify their votes.

While we generally try to avoid including editorials in Reality Check, on March 4 of 2006, the Chicago Tribune, whose editorial board is typically viewed as conservative, ran an editorial “Perfuming the Barnyard” in which it alleged that,

“Arizona Sen. John McCain is sponsoring two interesting pieces of legislation. One mounts a direct assault on congressional earmarks, those little morsels of home district pork that lawmakers slip into unrelated spending bills. The other steers $10 million to the University of Arizona to launch an academic center honoring the late Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.”

(The rest of the article is included below)

It appears then, that while McCain’s latest assault on pork is on one of his Democratic opponents, Senator McCain is not afraid to support pork projects for his constituents either. His $10 million project is certainly far less than Clinton’s $43 million, but the principle is largely the same.

And, according to New York Magazine on June 13, Senator Clinton has been criticized before for earmarking.

“‘…Hillary Clinton has been working overtime to steer Pentagon funds to the state,’ William Hartung, an arms-trade expert at the New School, just told us. ‘This year alone she has taken credit for two dozen projects worth over $800 million. If she wants to be the commander-in-chief, she should be pushing programs on their merits, not on the basis of pork-barrel politics.’ Hartung calls one project Clinton championed, the presidential helicopter built by Lockheed Martin, a potential ‘burden for taxpayers that may not perform as advertised’ and suggested she’s touted some projects as designed to protect troops in Iraq or Afghanistan when they’re really entirely unrelated. It’s ‘misleading at the least, if not outright unethical,’ he said….”


John McCain’s criticism of Mitt Romney’s abortion flip was the subject of a post yesterday–Romney was pro-choice as governor of Massachusetts and since running for president has reiterated pro-life positions, justifying his about face with the contention that he was always personally pro-life. While McCain’s gripe was not that Romney was at one point pro-choice but rather that he was inconsistent, let’s take a look at how McCain does feel about pro-choice Republican candidates.

On May 8, in reference to why he thinks Giuliani’s position on abortion could prevent the former New York City mayor from receiving the Republican presidential nomination, McCain told the AP,

“I think it’s one of the fundamental principles of a conservative to have a respect and commitment to the dignity of human life, both the born and the unborn.”

However, as captured in this You Tube video, McCain told CNN several years ago,

“But we all know, and it’s obvious, that if we repeal Roe v. Wade tomorrow, thousands of young American women would be performing illegal and dangerous operations. I want us to be a party of inclusion. I think that we can all be members of the Republican party whether we are pro-choice or pro-life because we share the same goal, and that is the elimination of abortion because it’s an unpleasant and terrible procedure. We think–I think, that we must go back to the party platform of 1980 and ’84, we include people who have this specific disagreements, who share our same goals.” (Unfortunately, this video is not dated, but given the banner across the screen, it’s from some point during McCain’s 2000 presidential campaign.)

Not entirely a flip-flop, but these two statement are not 100% consistent either. McCain admits that at one point the party had room for the pro-choice, but now, he contends that a pro-choice candidate goes against the fiber of conservatism. No to imply the Republican party hasn’t evolved since the CNN interview and that what once might have been acceptable by the party today is not (particularly with the rise of Evangelical support within the party). But we thought it would be helpful to point out this discrepancy, nonetheless.

It’s also helpful to note that USA Today also wrote on May 8 that “Presidential hopeful John McCain says it’s not impossible for a Republican candidate who favors abortion rights to win the nomination, but says such a candidate would face long odds.”

Further, it also doesn’t hurt to reiterate a flip we’ve discussed a few times before in which McCain said in 2000 he would consider repealing Roe v. Wade, but he then completely backtracked these statements. On April 17, we wrote,


Yesterday, John McCain’s campaign sent an e-mail to supporters in Alabama reiterating the Senator’s anti-abortion record. Of particular note is the assertion that, “John McCain believes Roe v. Wade is a flawed decision that must be overturned” (See below for the full e-mail.)

This contradicts statements made by the Senator in his 2000 presidential campaign. On August 19 of 1999, he told the San Francisco Chronicle, “I’d love to see a point where it [Roe] is irrelevant and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary…But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe vs. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to (undergo) illegal and dangerous operations.” (more…)

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