John McCain just completed another blogger conference call. He began by saying he was pleased with the results last night (and pointed out that despite bad weather in Northern Virginia the final tabulation showed he won the state by 9 points and won among conservatives, although not “very conservative” voters). He stressed, as he did repeatedly during the call, that he respected Governor Huckabee and was not going to pressure him out the race. He also reported that he had completed a positive meeting with the GOP House conference and the leadership had endorsed him following the meeting. He emphasized (and repeated during the call) that he understood the importance of uniting the party and is “confident that we will.” He reiterated that he would make the differences between him and his eventual opponent on taxes, government regulation, healthcare and especially on Iraq clear. (He mentioned the recent actions by the Iraqi Parliament and said that the same people who said the surge would not work also said that the Iraqi’s could not make progress in governing themselves and that they were “wrong on both counts, on both counts.” He tried out perhaps a new catch phrase, explaining he will be happy to “draw differences on principles, philosophy and specifics and not platitudes.”
I asked him about Barack Obama’s votes on Iraq and on FISA and his endorsement by MoveOn.org and what that said about his readiness to be commander in chief. He declined to say that Obama lacked the judgment to be president but said Obama was wrong on toop withdrawal, the ability of the Iraqi government to function and on the surge, saying “we’ll all be responsible for our record.” (He also reminded everyone that the same MoveOn.org which endorsed Obama had run the “General Betray- us” ad.) On FISA, he said that the telecom companies “of course” would expect immunity for assisting the government in the war on terror.
Other highlights: 1) He has not begun the VP selection process but did praise Senator Tom Coburn and Governor Mark Sanford (without acknowledging they are on a short list) as two excellent conservatives; 2) In the strongest terms I have heard he endorsed the legal system in place for the 6 Guantanamo terrorists and declared that nothing in the Geneva Convention or our experience with the World War II war crime trials suggested these people were entitled to the same legal protections as U.S. citizens; and 3) repeated his determination to eliminate earmarks, although offered to work with members of Congress on how to phase them out.
Overall, this was one of his more impressive calls. His tone was calm and confident, his rhetoric in taking on the Democrats more forceful than it has been. You can slowly sense that he is doing his level best to transition from maverick to nominee and party leader.