On Morning Joe, Mike Barnicle claimed that while in "most campaigns," "Republicans begin on the right for their campaign and come to the middle for the fall," John McCain is "in the middle and he has to swing right for the primaries." In fact, McCain has already shifted rightward on immigration and taxes, and McCain himself has asserted that he is a "mainstream conservative."
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On the February 11 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, co-host Mika Brzezinski asked whether Republican presidential candidate John McCain would "potentially alienate himself from independents and other Republicans" by "trying to appeal to the conservative base." In response, guest co-host Mike Barnicle asserted that McCain "has to figure out, you know, does he remain true to himself, in which he would obviously have immense appeal to independents in the fall, or does he play to the band right now in the spring." Barnicle also claimed that while in "most campaigns," "Republicans begin on the right for their campaign and come to the middle for the fall," McCain is "in the middle and he has to swing right for the primaries." In fact, McCain has already "play[ed] to the band" by shifting rightward on high-profile issues such as immigration and taxes. Further, a prominent study by political science professors Keith Poole and Jeff Lewis indicates that his Senate record is not "in the middle." McCain has also rejected the idea that he is a moderate or "in the middle," instead asserting that he is a "mainstream conservative."
Poole and Lewis' study ranked McCain as the eighth most conservative member of the 110th Senate, the second most conservative member of the 109th Senate, and the fourth most conservative member of the 108th Senate. The Poole-Rosenthal ratings system, developed by Poole and political science professor Howard Rosenthal and known as NOMINATE, has become widely used among political scientists (see here for a list of academic studies that have used the Poole-Rosenthal system to evaluate legislative votes in both the U.S. and other countries). The system uses every non-unanimous vote cast by every legislator to determine his or her relative ideology.
In a February 7 speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference, McCain asserted that he is "proud to be a conservative," adding that his "record in public office taken as a whole is the record of a mainstream conservative." From the speech:
I am proud to be a conservative, and I make that claim because I share with you that most basic of conservative principles: that liberty is a right conferred by our Creator, not by governments, and that the proper object of justice and the rule of law in our country is not to aggregate power to the state but to protect the liberty and property of its citizens. And like you, I understand, as Edmund Burke observed, that "whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither . . . is safe."
While I have long worked to help grow a public majority of support for Republican candidates and principles, I have also always believed, like you, in the wisdom of Ronald Reagan, who warned in an address to this conference in 1975, that "a political party cannot be all things to all people. It must represent certain fundamental beliefs which must not be compromised to political expediency or simply to swell its numbers."
I attended my first CPAC conference as the invited guest of Ronald Reagan, not long after I had returned from overseas, when I heard him deliver his "shining city upon a hill" speech. I was still a naval officer then, but his words inspired and helped form my own political views, just as Ronald Reagan's defense of America's cause in Vietnam and his evident concern for American prisoners of war in that conflict inspired and were a great comfort to those of us who, in my friend Jerry Denton's words, had the honor of serving "our country under difficult circumstances." I am proud, very proud, to have come to public office as a foot soldier in the Reagan Revolution. And if a few of my positions have raised your concern that I have forgotten my political heritage, I want to assure you that I have not, and I am as proud of that association today as I was then. My record in public office taken as a whole is the record of a mainstream conservative. I believe today, as I believed twenty-five years ago, in small government; fiscal discipline; low taxes; a strong defense, judges who enforce, and not make, our laws; the social values that are the true source of our strength; and, generally, the steadfast defense of our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which I have defended my entire career as God-given to the born and unborn.
Those are my beliefs, and you need not examine only my past votes and speeches to assure yourselves that they are my genuine convictions.
Several print publications have recently referred to McCain as a "moderate," despite McCain's record and his assertion that he is "proud to be a conservative":
- In a February 9 New York Times article, staff writers Michael M. Grynbaum and John Harwood wrote that the "fast-fading presidential dreams" of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg are "diminished by the success of Senator John McCain, a moderate candidate who has emerged as the Republican front-runner."
- A February 9 Associated Press article reported that Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) "said he would counsel McCain, a moderate Republican, to pick a conservative as his running mate to gain the support of conservatives."
- A February 8 Washington Post article by staff writers Michael D. Shear, Chris Cillizza, and Glenn Kessler reported that when former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney began his presidential run, he "looked like the ideal Republican candidate -- a conservative who seemed certain to face either McCain or [former New York City Mayor Rudy] Giuliani, both men whose moderate credentials would force them to run as centrists."
From the February 12 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe:
BRZEZINSKI: He does great with the crowd. But the question, Barnicle, I have for you about this is: In terms of John McCain trying to appeal to the conservative base, maybe even having the president putting his arm around him to help him with the conservative base, does he potentially alienate himself from independents and other Republicans who could go for someone like Barack Obama? Is there a scenario there, or am I too far down the road?
BARNICLE: No, I think that's the trick, that's the trick for John McCain. He has to figure out, you know, does he remain true to himself, in which he would obviously have immense appeal to a lot of independents in the fall --
BARNICLE: -- or does he play to the band right now in the spring. I mean, most campaigns, they begin -- the Democrats begin in the left in the spring and have to come toward the middle for the fall. Republicans begin on the right for their campaign and come to the middle for the fall. He's in the middle --
BARNICLE: -- and he has to swing right for the primaries.