John McCain: Straight Shooter?

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John McCain, 2005 [Mr. Wright / Flickr]

Scrambling a bit for a show tonight, wading in on John McCain. The Straight Talk Express is on the road again; can McCain be the same maverick he was in 2000? Is he a maverick in the first place, or does he just play one on TV? Do we have the same expectations of McCain as we do other candidates, or has his (in part self-constructed) image as a truth teller made us look harder for flaws? Is it as easy for the center to swoon for him after he infamously allowed George Bush to hug him on the campaign trail in 2004?

Michael Scherer

Washington correspondent,

Erik Erikson

Blogger, Confessions of Political Junkie


Jill Zuckman

Washington correspondent, Chicago Tribune

Robert Timberg

Editor-in-Chief, Proceedings

Author, John McCain: An American Odyssey and The Nightingale’s Song

Extra Credit Reading

Michael Scherer, McCain takes the press for a bumpy ride, Salon, March 18, 2007: “But candidate McCain has also re-embraced a radical notion for this modern era of e-mailed opposition research and minute-by-minute news cycles, when a sound bite can be heard instantly around the world but a position paper is never read. He is betting that voters will forgive a front-runner’s public flubs, and the headlines they produce, if they feel they are voting for a real person, not a consultant-managed product.”

Erick Erickson, McCain Continues Shafting Conservatives, Red State, March 13, 2007: “I’m confused. I thought John McCain was a conservative. Of course he tells everyone who will listen that he is one.”

Roger Simon, John McCain: Is it Déjà vu All Over Again?, The Politico, March 17, 2007: “So was it like the old days? Was it the same rollicking, merry prankster, boys-and-girls on the bus, free-for-all? No. It was access to the candidate that no other campaign grants. But no reality of today could live up to the memories of yesterday, anyway.”

James P. Pinkerton, Chuck Hagel is hot – John McCain is not, Newsday, January 30, 2007: “It’s official: Chuck Hagel is the new John McCain, getting the glowing treatment from glam publications such as GQ. And John McCain is the new Bob Dole – and we know what kind of press Dole got.”

Todd S. Purdum, Prisoner of Conscience, Vanity Fair, February, 2007: “John McCain has spent this whole day, this whole year, these whole last six years, trying to “fix it,” trying to square the circle: that is, trying to make the maverick, freethinking impulses that first made him into a political star somehow compatible with the suck-it-up adherence to the orthodoxies required of a Republican presidential front-runner.”

David Weigel, Hate the Spending, Love the Spenders, Reason Magazine: Hit and Run, March 19, 2007: “McCain’s goal, if he’s honest, would be to produce a large Republican majority that agrees with him. If he doesn’t care if apostates on spending and taxes (and from his perspective, war) hold swing votes in the GOP, he must not care very much about spending and taxes.”

Bull Dog Pundit, McCain Video On Multitude Of Topics, Ankle Biting Pundits, March 19, 2007: “The man still doesn’t get it when it comes to why conservatives are upset with him over CFR. He claims that much of the anger is coming from “special interests’ who have been deprived of money and that those people were “in Washington” who were upset that they couldn’t carry out their agenda. WRONG WRONG WRONG Senator. The main reason conservatives are upset with you about CFR is because it impinges the right to free speech.”

Jonathan Chait, McCain goes over to the dark side, Los Angeles Times, March 10, 2007: “Well, let’s just say that if John McCain circa 2007 was campaigning against John McCain circa 2000, he would call him a communist.”

Matt Welch, Be Afraid of President McCain: The frightening mind of an authoritarian maverick, Reason Magazine, April, 2007: “McCain once wrote that Teddy Roosevelt “invented the modern presidency by liberally interpreting the constitutional authority of the office to redress the imbalance of power between the executive and legislative branches that had tilted decisively toward Congress.” This is the kind of president John McCain is aching to be.”


On the one hand you’re being flattered by a man who could be President, who’s willing to sit down with you and essentially joust with you intellectually at length for a long period of time. There’s sort of an ego gratification to the whole process. Most candidates you have to beg and fight just to get 15 minutes with, and here he’s trying to basically talk us out for hours at a time . . . On another level, though, he is doing something that I think is really valuable. He’s opening up the process in a way that other candidates simply aren’t opening up the process. We are not working for him. We were looking the entire time for him to stumble or to say something new, and there’s no reason we wouldn’t write it.

Michael Scherer


[When asked whether he supports funding for contraception in Africa, McCain] sort of clammed up. And clearly got nervous. At one point he said, “I’m stumped.” At another point he called for his communications director . . . it was a telling moment, for two different reasons. One, here you had John McCain, who is marketing himself as the straight talker who knows exactly who he is and who he wants to be and is not afraid to let other people see it. And here he was, being confused by an issue that he admittedly hadn’t thought a lot about, but also was afraid of alienating some Republican voters on. On the other side, I thought it was interesting because it showed exactly why other candidates don’t allow this kind of access. We didn’t catch him exactly flip-flopping on a position—we just caught him off guard.

Michael Scherer


He drew the line this time. Eight years ago, he pretty much drew no lines. But this time, he was a little more cautious in a few hot-button areas because he’s trying to run to win, and last time it was just a sheer underdog effort.

Jill Zuckman


I think he learned something from the last election, and he is the first to tell you he did. He describes himself as being wiser. (He doesn’t want to mention being older.) He said that he made a big mistake in South Carolina eight years ago when he got so angry. He said “I got angry. Voters don’t like angry candidates.”

Jill Zuckman


McCain is starting to attract conservatives who see Rudy Giuliani as probably the chief threat. The major distinguishing point I believe between the two is on the life issue and the social issues. McCain is becoming very much the anti-Giuliani.

Erik Erikson


Brendan [Greely, Open Source’s blogger-in-chief] . . . talks about McCain being embraced by George Bush on the campaign trail. And I ask you: what the hell was he gonna do? I mean, the president of the United States throws his arms around you: are you gonna head-butt him?

Robert Timberg

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