John McCain held another blogger call today, starting off with a jab at Barack Obama on Iraq. Citing Obama’s recent statement that U.S. troops might have to re-enter after he withdrew them because Al Qaeda “might establish a base,” McCain stressed that Al Qaeda already “has a base” and that General Petraeus has identified Iraq as the “central battleground” in the war against terrorism.
I asked how he regarded the Democrats’ abandonment of free trade and to expand on his thoughts on the passing of William F. Buckley, Jr. On trade, he stated that “the far Left is driving the debate” and gave a spirited defense of the benefits of free trade, which he termed “a fundamental requirement of American policy.” On Buckley, he declared that he was “a trailblazer” and “a true conservative leader” and “one of the nicest, one of the [most] decent people” he knew.
In response to other questions he enthusiastically stated he would continue town hall meetings and keep the media “on the bus” even after he wraps up the nomination. As for Obama, he demurred when asked if he would attack Obama’s experience, saying rather he would explain his own experience and point out the “very, very significant differences” on policy issues. Asked about George Will’s column today blasting him on campaign finance reform he diplomatically complimented Will as a great conservative writer, but said they would have to “agree to disagree” on campaign reform. However, he acknowledged (as Will pointed out) that he had refused to shake former FEC Commissioner Brad Smith’s hand because, he alleged, Smith had “savaged me and attacked my character.” (His tone was calm, but there could be no mistaking his animosity toward Smith.)
On other topics he wholeheartedly supported a proposal by Senator Jim DeMint to enact a one-year ban on earmarks, expressed “grave concern” about the progress of the Six Party talks (and said the New York Philharmonic trip was “fine,” but he wished people from the “world’s largest gulag” could have attended the concert instead of 1400 hand-picked guests), and said that President Bush could help the GOP’s chances and conservatives more generally by staying the course in Iraq and Afghanistan, maintaining pressure on Iran and vetoing any spending bill with an earmark. On Iraq, he explained that we could have a long-term presence there, but was “absolutely” confident that military victory could be achieved during his term as president. For good measure he also passed a “pop quiz’ on the difference between the YouTube and MySpace websites.
Over all, he seemed feisty and engaged, but careful in tone to stress the upcoming election would be conducted with respect. In short, he seems raring to start the general election battle.