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On McCain’s Sleeve

In a hastily arranged call with bloggers, John McCain began by touting his travels with Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, whose endorsement he termed a “coup.” However, he clearly had something on his mind: the accusation circulating in conservative circles that he disapproved of Justice Samuel Alito because he wore his conservatism “on his sleeve.”

He spoke with the energy and verve he usually reserved for discussions of fiscal discipline, saying that he supported and worked for Alito’s confirmation and frequently had said on the campaign trail that he would appoint justices in the mold of Justices Alito and Roberts. In follow-up questions McCain said that he did not recall ever having such a conversation of the type John Fund of the Wall Street Journal ascribed to him, but that he has been clear that he will search for justices devoted to originalist  interpretation. He added that the “beauty” of the Alito and Roberts nominations was that they had a clear record and “we could rely on them to strictly interpret the Constitution.”

Later in the call he was asked about appointing justices who might strike down McCain-Feingold campaign-finance reform. He gave an interesting answer  I had not heard previously. He said that he could not let his biases (i.e. his policy preferences) affect his decision to appoint strict constructionist judges who might not agree with him on part of his agenda. In short, he said that the decisions rendered by these judges might “far exceed my agenda.”

In response to my question as to whether Florida was a “must win” state, he would only say that it was “very important.” He acknowledged that the tone had gotten sharper in the last day or so and there was always a danger of turning off voters, but said that he was just responding to Mitt Romney’s attacks as he had in Iowa and New Hampshire. Not surprisingly, he said that his responses were accurate and Romney’s were “desperate.”

He also used the opportunity to toss some red meat to the base. First, he repeated a litany of issues on which he would be “eager” to debate the Democrats and said that the election would highlight “fundamental differences” between the parties. Second, in the context of a question about why he was no longer friends with Pat Buchanan, he was careful to say only nice things about Buchanan and then went out of his way to declare that it would be critical if he got the nomination to “really unite the party.” He stressed that the GOP “has a lot of work to do” and that ” we need everyone pulling in the same direction.”

Unfortunately, technical difficulties ended the call as he was explaining why he did not mind getting liberal newspaper endorsements (saying in effect that he was glad they support his agenda, even if he doesn’t support theirs) — including the Boston Globe, which along with the conservative Boston Herald favored him over near-favorite son Romney.

Bottom line: This was a “reassure the base” call. For those who don’t want to be reassured, it likely would not suffice. For those who needed a bit more assurance, his advocacy of strict judicial interpretation and his eagerness to take on the Democrats was likely welcome news.



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