As he continues his campaign, John McCain is reminded daily that he has a problem with conservatives who have dominated the Republican Party for the past three decades and are a powerful force among the rank-and-file today. At one level, this is very strange. Mr. McCain sports a lifetime 83 percent vote rating from the American Conservative Union, and while campaigning in South Carolina he was accompanied by Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma — a stalwart conservative and tireless fighter against virtually every effort to expand the federal Leviathan. Moreover, Mr. McCain demonstrated extraordinary political leadership and courage in making the case for the very successful "surge" strategy in Iraq when few other Republicans would do so. But despite all of this and his reputation for "straight talk," Mr. McCain has on numerous occasions spoken out of both sides of his mouth while trying to explain his voting record — particularly on issues that rile conservatives.
McCain vs. McCain: On illegal immigration, Mr. McCain said that anyone who says he supported amnesty is "a liar" and says he has "never" supported Social Security benefits for illegals. However, in 2006 and 2007, he joined with Ted Kennedy to support Senate bills that would have granted amnesty to millions of illegals. In 2006, Mr. McCain denounced in a floor speech and cast the deciding vote against an amendment by Sen. John Ensign, Nevada Republican, that would have denied Social Security benefits to illegals who work under a Social Security number obtained through identity fraud. He cosponsored the Dream Act providing in-state tuition for illegal-alien college students, but, in the face of intense opposition to the bill from grass-roots conservatives, Mr. McCain announced that he would have voted against the legislation had he been in attendance when it was voted on late last year (he was absent).
Another issue where Mr. McCain has clashed with conservatives was over campaign finance reform, also called the McCain-Feingold bill, which instituted a series of regulations that limit the ability of independent groups not associated with the Democratic or Republican parties to participate in the political process. These regulations, which violate the First Amendment, bar the use of corporate or union money to pay for broadcast advertising that identifies a federal candidate within 30 days of a primary or nominating convention or within 60 days of a general election. These days, Mr. McCain is not talking much about the issue on the campaign trail. But Mr. McCain's advocacy of the legislation has created a bitter political divide between the senator and the National Right to Life Committee, which views it as a hindrance to its ability to get its message out. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Wisconsin Right to Life group and overturned the above-mentioned section of McCain-Feingold.
On abortion, Mr. McCain has a generally pro-life voting record (although he has supported embryo-destroying stem-cell research). In a 1998 letter to Roman Catholic bishops, Mr. McCain declared himself to be a "lifelong, ardent supporter of unborn children's right to life." But in 1999, he told the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board that "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 to undergo illegal and dangerous abortions." Later that year, he sent a letter to the National Right to Life Committee stating his "unequivocal support for overturning Roe v. Wade." On Jan. 22 of this year, the 35th anniversary of Roe, Mr. McCain sent a letter to pro-life marchers in Washington praising them and criticizing the seven Supreme Court judges who made up the majority in Roe.
On judicial appointments, Mr. McCain promises to nominate strict constructionists to the federal bench. But two years ago, he was one of the "Gang of 14" — seven Democratic and seven Republican senators who joined forces to block Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's effort to end the objectionable strategy of filibustering judicial nominees that was employed by the Democrats.
On taxes and spending, Mr. McCain has a mixed record. He supports extending President Bush's tax cuts. He opposed tax increases pushed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 and President Clinton in 1993 and voted in 1997 to cut capital-gains taxes. The senator also broke with the White House and Senate Republican leadership by voting against the Medicare prescription-drug entitlement and he supports permitting workers to invest part of their Social Security savings in higher-yielding private accounts. But according to the Club for Growth, "his overall record is tainted by a marked antipathy towards free markets and individual freedom," which includes support for raising Social Security taxes and a 282 percent tax increase on cigarettes. Mr. McCain has been disingenuous in explaining his opposition to Mr. Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts. He claims to have cast these votes to protest the fact that the tax cuts were not accompanied by spending cuts. But the fact is that in opposing these measures, Mr. McCain joined liberal Democrats like Sens. Jay Rockefeller and Tom Daschle in employing class-warfare rhetoric and pushing in favor of higher taxes — voting on the pro-tax side on 14 different occasions.
Mr. McCain also differs with free-market conservatives on numerous environmental issues. He opposes oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska and has joined with Sen. Joe Lieberman to cosponsor legislation that would require that greenhouse gas emissions be reduced to 2000 levels by 2010 — a measure sure to result in substantial increases in electricity and gasoline costs.
McCain vs. Mitt Romney: Mr. Romney has been sharply critical of the 2006 and 2007 amnesty bills supported by Mr. McCain, and opposes the Dream Act and Social Security for illegals. Mr. Romney opposes McCain-Feingold, calling it a violation of the First Amendment. Unlike Mr. McCain, Mr. Romney was pro-choice until several years ago, when he became pro-life. He favors overturning Roe and returning authority over abortion to the states. Mr. Romney describes Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito as "ideal examples for what we should select" for Supreme Court justices. Mr. Romney has a mixed record on taxes and spending. He previously refused to endorse Mr. Bush's 2003 tax cuts. Today, he favors making them permanent. He has put forward a plan to hold increases in federal non-discretionary spending below the inflation rate. As governor of Massachusetts, Mr. Romney, inheriting a state in fiscal collapse, made a far-reaching attempt to streamline state government, but many of his efforts were stymied by a liberal, overwhelmingly Democratic legislature. He signed into law a universal health care plan that is a mix of free-market reforms and big-government mandates. Mr. Romney favors drilling in ANWR and withdrew Massachusetts from an initiative sponsored by neighboring liberal New England governors to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
McCain vs. Mike Huckabee: Like Mr. McCain, Mr. Huckabee has supported in-state tuition for illegals. As governor of Arkansas, he dragged his feet on signing an immigration enforcement agreement with the federal Department of Homeland Security. Now Mr. Huckabee says he favors securing the border and opposes sanctuary cities. Mr. Huckabee is strongly pro-life and favors appointing strict constructionists to the federal bench. He opposes McCain-Feingold. While he has not spoken in great detail about the federal tax and budgetary policies, as governor of Arkansas Mr. Huckabee presided over numerous spending and tax increases, including higher taxes on gasoline, cigarettes, groceries, medicine and the Internet. Mr. Huckabee favors drilling in ANWR and has been praised by the National Wildlife Federation for his support of a "cap-and-trade"system to limit greenhouse gases.
McCain vs. Rudy Giuliani: As New York mayor, Mr. Giuliani accused the Immigration and Naturalization Service of "terrorizing innocent people" and sued all the way up to the Supreme Court to defend the city's sanctuary policies. Unlike virtually every other Republican candidate, he is pro-choice on abortion. Mr. Giuliani has said he would nominate Supreme Court justices like John Roberts and Samuel Alito. He has supported McCain-Feingold. Mr. Giuliani opposes a federal cap-and-trade system and has yet to take a position on ANWR. He has unveiled a far-reaching package of tax cuts but has not been nearly so specific when it comes to the federal budget — particularly the spiraling costs of entitlements.