In his April 27 nationally syndicated column, headlined "Straight Talking Again," Washington Post columnist David Broder wrote that Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is "risking the ire of Bush fans" by "running as the anti-Bush" and concluded that, for McCain, "there must be at least some relief now in being able to speak his own mind -- whatever the consequences. Candor, even belatedly, becomes him." But elsewhere in the column, Broder acknowledged to some extent the seemingly contradictory fact that McCain has backed off certain issues because his prior positions were unpopular with the Republican base. Indeed, Broder noted that McCain "gives no emphasis to the campaign finance reforms that were central to his 2000 message, knowing that they are not popular with Republican power brokers." Broder further wrote that during McCain's official announcement that he is running for president, McCain "was notably silent on immigration reform, another issue on which he has found himself at odds with many of his fellow Republicans."
From Broder's April 27 column:
So McCain, recognizing that neither [fellow Republican presidential candidates Rudy] Giuliani nor [Mitt] Romney is likely to challenge him from the right, is risking the ire of Bush fans in order to position himself to compete against a Democrat in an election where independents will probably cast the decisive votes. His campaign aides insist that he has never changed. But this year's McCain gives no emphasis to the campaign finance reforms that were central to his 2000 message, knowing that they are not popular with Republican power brokers. And his announcement speech was notably silent on immigration reform, another issue on which he has found himself at odds with many of his fellow Republicans.
But while recognizing that McCain's latest posture on immigration reform appears to represent a departure from his prior high-profile support for the 2006 Senate bill, which included provisions for a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, Broder minimized the full extent of McCain's apparent pandering to the right on the issue. McCain has not simply refrained from saying anything about the issue; he reportedly told GOP voters that he was "reconsidering his views on how the immigration law might be changed" and "said he was open" to more strict immigration reform proposals than he had previously supported, according to a March 20 New York Times article. From the Times:
As he left Iowa, Mr. McCain said he was reconsidering his views on how the immigration law might be changed. He said he was open to legislation that would require people who came to the United States illegally to return home before applying for citizenship, a measure proposed by Representative Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana. Mr. McCain has previously favored legislation that would allow most illegal immigrants to become citizens without leaving the country.
Mr. McCain, for example, appeared to distance himself from Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat with whom he formed an alliance last year on an immigration bill that stalled in Congress.
"What I've tried to point out is we couldn't pass the legislation," Mr. McCain said. "So we have to change the legislation so it can pass. And I've been working with Senator Kennedy, but we've also been working with additional senators, additional House members."
Mr. McCain focused instead on the proposal by Mr. Pence, a conservative. "Pence has this touchback proposal," Mr. McCain said at a news conference. "I said hey, let's consider that if that's a way we can get some stuff."
Mr. McCain's aides said his identification with Mr. Kennedy accounted for much of his political problem on the issue with conservatives. One of his rivals for the nomination, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, has taken to attacking what he calls the McCain-Kennedy bill.
Broder's largely flattering portrayal of McCain came one day after his April 26 column, headlined "The Democrats' Gonzales," in which he compared Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) with Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, writing that Reid is "a continuing embarrassment thanks to his amateurish performance." Broder's April 26 column provoked a letter to the editor signed by the entire Senate Democratic Caucus praising Reid's "skill and aplomb."
From the April 27 Washington Post article:
Credit John McCain with one thing: When you're 70 years old, are running for president a second time and have been stumping through the country for many months, it's difficult to spring any surprises in your formal announcement speech.
The Arizona senator came up with one: He is running as the anti-Bush.
It is a big gamble on McCain's part, but a necessary one. The closer his ties to Bush have become, the more his standing in the polls has slumped. And an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll this week found that more Republicans believe that McCain would follow Bush's policies closely than believe Rudy Giuliani or Mitt Romney would.
While Bush remains highly popular among Republican voters, GOP consultant Steve Lombardo pointed out this week that "in no issue area does the [overall] public approve of the president's performance. This is likely to be a 'change' election," in which the majority of voters seek a new direction, whoever becomes the next president.
So McCain, recognizing that neither Giuliani nor Romney is likely to challenge him from the right, is risking the ire of Bush fans in order to position himself to compete against a Democrat in an election where independents will probably cast the decisive votes. His campaign aides insist that he has never changed. But this year's McCain gives no emphasis to the campaign finance reforms that were central to his 2000 message, knowing that they are not popular with Republican power brokers. And his announcement speech was notably silent on immigration reform, another issue on which he has found himself at odds with many of his fellow Republicans.
Still, the theme he sounded this week was the same one he voiced in his first campaign, when he said the nation could not "continue to tolerate a government that has become little more than a spectacle of selfish ambition, a government auctioned to the highest bidder."
Now, it is the manifest shortcomings of the Bush administration that McCain says he would not tolerate as president. In clear references to the faltering Bush performance on homeland security, Hurricane Katrina relief and the treatment of wounded veterans at Walter Reed, McCain said: "That's not good enough for America. And when I'm president, it won't be good enough for me."
He used the same words to characterize the failings of the president and Congress on balancing the budget, financing Social Security and Medicare, reforming the tax code, securing energy independence, and helping workers who lose their jobs to foreign competition.
And McCain did not exempt Iraq policy from his critique. Instead of underlining his support for attacking Saddam Hussein and his endorsement of Bush's decision to add troops this year, McCain emphasized the lessons of the war.
"We all know the war in Iraq has not gone well," he said. "We have made mistakes and we have paid grievously for them. We have changed the strategy that failed us, and we have begun to make a little progress. But in the many mistakes we have made in this war, a few lessons have become clear. America should never undertake a war unless we are prepared to do everything necessary to succeed, unless we have a realistic and comprehensive plan for success, and unless all relevant agencies of government are committed to that success. We did not meet this responsibility initially. And we must never repeat that mistake again."
That statement by itself will not appease those who think McCain has been wrong in supporting the war and who deplored his quick embrace of Bush after their bitter struggle for the 2000 nomination. The picture of McCain urging Bush's election at the Republican National Convention and at dozens of other rallies will not be easily erased.
But for John McCain, there must be at least some relief now in being able to speak his own mind -- whatever the consequences. Candor, even belatedly, becomes him.