Despite McCain's moves to placate GOP base, Fox News Sunday's Wallace wondered how Dean could call McCain an "opportunist"

››› ››› LAUREN AUERBACH

Discussing Howard Dean's assertion that Sen. John McCain is a "blatant opportunist," on Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace stated, "I think you can call John McCain a lot of things. Opportunist?" Bill Kristol responded that polls on the Iraq war show "that most people would like to be told, 'Hey, we can get out of there soon, no problem, no damage,' " and added: "I think the opportunist line is just ludicrous." The Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman asserted: "McCain actually revels in saying the thing that you don't want to hear. And he says it first." No member of the Fox News Sunday panel mentioned that McCain has reversed his positions on issues such as taxes, immigration, and his view of the religious right to align himself more closely with the base of his party.

On the March 30 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co's Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace highlighted Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean's March 28 assertion that Sen. John McCain is "a blatant opportunist." Turning to New York Times columnist and Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, Wallace stated, "I think you can call John McCain a lot of things. Opportunist?" Kristol responded that polls on the Iraq war show "that most people would like to be told, 'Hey, we can get out of there soon, no problem, no damage,' " and added: "I think the opportunist line is just ludicrous." After Kristol spoke, the Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman asserted: "McCain actually revels in saying the thing that you don't want to hear. And he says it first." In fact, McCain has reversed his positions on issues such as taxes, immigration, and his view of the religious right to align himself more closely with the base of his party, something that no member of the panel -- which also included Fox News host Brit Hume and National Public Radio senior correspondent Juan Williams -- noted while discussing Dean's statement.

Media Matters has previously documented McCain's reversals on tax cuts, immigration, and his views of the religious right:

  • Tax cuts. After opposing President Bush's tax cuts in 2001, McCain voted against legislation in 2003 to accelerate the tax reductions enacted in the 2001 bill and to cut taxes on dividends and capital gains. However, in February 2006, he cast a vote in favor of extending the 2003 tax cuts on capital gains and dividends through 2010 (the vote was technically against eliminating the tax-cut extension). When asked during the April 2, 2006, broadcast of NBC's Meet the Press why he had changed his position, McCain replied: "I do not believe in tax increases. ... The tax cuts are now there and voting to revoke them would have been to -- not to extend them would have meant a tax increase." In May 2006, McCain voted for the final version of the tax bill, which extended the tax cuts on capital gains and dividends. A February 18, 2006, Wall Street Journal editorial -- headlined "McCain's Tax Reversal" -- suggested that McCain's "reversal" was politically motivated, stating: "Our guess is that Mr. McCain may also be looking ahead to the 2008 GOP Presidential primaries, which won't be kind to candidates who've voted for tax increases."

During his presidential campaign, McCain has repeatedly claimed that he initially opposed the Bush tax cuts because they were not offset by spending cuts. But that was not the reason he gave in his May 2001 floor statement explaining his opposition to the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001 conference committee report -- the final version of Bush's initial tax-cut package. In that floor statement, McCain said that while he supported an earlier version of the bill "that provided more tax relief to middle income Americans," he could not "in good conscience support a tax cut in which so many of the benefits go to the most fortunate among us, at the expense of middle class Americans who most need tax relief."

  • Immigration. McCain's current position on immigration -- that the borders must be secured before other reforms can be addressed -- is a reversal of his previous position that border security could not be disaggregated from other aspects of comprehensive immigration reform. Indeed, in a March 30, 2006, Senate floor statement, McCain said: "While strengthening border security is an essential component of national security, it must also be accompanied by immigration reforms." He added: "[A]s long as there are jobs available in this country for people who live in poverty and hopelessness in other countries, those people will risk their lives to cross our borders -- no matter how formidable the barriers -- and most will be successful." Arguing that "[o]ur reforms need to reflect that reality," McCain said, "We need to establish a temporary worker program that permits workers from other countries -- to the extent they are needed -- to fill jobs that would otherwise go unfilled."

Moreover, during CNN's January 30 Republican presidential debate, McCain asserted that he "would not" support his own comprehensive immigration proposal, which would have established a guest-worker program and a path to citizenship, if it came to a vote on the Senate floor. McCain acknowledged during that debate that he currently favors "border security first" because "[t]he people want the border secured first."

  • Religious right. During his 2000 presidential run, McCain called Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson "agents of intolerance," asserting: "Neither party should be defined by pandering to the outer reaches of American politics and the agents of intolerance, whether they be Louis Farrakhan or Al Sharpton on the left, or Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell on the right." However, McCain stated on the April 2, 2006, edition of NBC's Meet the Press that he no longer believed Falwell was an "agent of intolerance." Subsequently, McCain delivered the commencement address at Falwell's Liberty University in May 2006. A May 14, 2006, Los Angeles Times article (retrieved from the Nexis database) described McCain's address as "an olive branch to Christian conservatives who could impede his presidential ambitions." The Times also noted that "[a]fter McCain accepted the invitation, critics accused him of pandering for political purposes."

Additionally, McCain admitted that during the 2000 South Carolina primary he pandered to Republican primary voters by failing to take a consistent position on whether the Confederate flag should fly atop South Carolina's Capitol dome. As reported in an April 20, 2000, New York Times article, McCain said that the flag was a "symbol of racism and slavery" but on the very next day called it a "symbol of heritage."

Indeed, in an April 20, 2000, speech, McCain stated that he had "compromise[d]" his "principles" in his statements on the flag:

McCAIN: My ancestors fought for the Confederacy, and I am sure that many, maybe all of them, fought with courage and with faith that they were serving a cause greater than themselves. But I don't believe their service, however distinguished, needs to be commemorated in a way that offends, that deeply hurts, people whose ancestors were once denied their freedom by my ancestors.

[...]

McCAIN: As I admitted, I should have done this earlier, when an honest answer could have affected me personally. I did not do so for one reason alone. I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary. So, I chose to compromise my principles. I broke my promise to always tell the truth.

From the March 30 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co's Fox News Sunday:

WALLACE: Bill, the Democrats are taking their own shots. They reacted very sharply to that ad. They say McCain, this is a -- party chairman Howard Dean said McCain may try to reintroduce himself to the country, but, and let's put it up, he, McCain, is "a blatant opportunist who doesn't understand the economy and is promising to keep our troops in Iraq for 100 years." I got to say, Bill, I think you can call John McCain a lot of things. Opportunist?

KRISTOL: Well, I think supporting the surge in Iraq and saying we might have to stay there for a long time, is that opportunistic? I think it's kind of the opposite. Don't the polls show that most people would like to be told, "Hey, we can get out of there soon, no problem, no damage"? McCain has shown real courage, obviously, in supporting the surge, and I think he will show courage incidentally over the next few weeks. As Brit said, we've got to win this showdown here with the Iranian-backed militias. If it means slowing down or stopping the drawdown of troops, I believe McCain will call for that. And I think he will say we've got to win and we can't have some artificial -- it's better to win with 18 brigades in Iraq than to lose -- to risk losing by drawing down too fast to 15. So, the opportunist line is just ludicrous, and I don't think that hurts McCain at all.

ZUCKMAN: McCain actually revels in saying the thing that you don't want to hear. And he says it first. He -- in fact, when he gave the economic speech this week, he almost didn't really acknowledge people's pain, as Bill Clinton taught us you have to do, before going right to saying, I'm not going to give away the store.

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Elections
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William Kristol
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John McCain, 2008 Elections
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