In a desperate fight to save his seat against a hard-right primary challenger, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has spent the past year veering hard to the right, reversing his positions on a host of issues to appeal to the increasingly fanatical GOP base. This campaign wasn’t the first time McCain reinvented himself to better suit his political ambitions of the moment, and — considering that he now has a strong lead in recent polling — it probably won’t be the last.
But in a recent interview with Politics Daily, McCain bristled at accusations that he’s flip-flopped, insisting that “it’s fundamentally false” to say he “changed” positions:
Then I ask him about Sen. Lindsey Graham’s remark to The New York Times, that Graham understands his friend’s moves away from risky past positions because “John’s got a primary. He’s got to focus on getting re-elected.”
McCain interrupts me. “Lindsey knows that I don’t change in my positions,” he says. “I have not changed in my positions. I know how popular it is for the Eastern press to paint me as having changed positions. That’s not true. I know they’re going to continue to say it. It’s fundamentally false. Not only am I sure that they’ll say it, you’ll say it. You’ll write it. And I’ve just grown to accept that.”
Indeed, Graham — McCain’s “closest friend in the Senate” — is right to point out McCain’s politically-motivated flips. On immigration, McCain has gone from being a fierce supporter for comprehensive immigration reform — he worked with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) on bill that passed the Senate and included a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants — to now arguing that comprehensive reform has to take a backseat to spending billions to secure the border. He’s even come out against the DREAM act, which would provide undocumented high school graduates a path to legal residency and the chance to attend college — a bill he sponsored in 2003, 2005, and 2007.
During the 2008 presidential campaign, McCain called on the U.S. to urgently address climate change, and was a key sponsor of cap-and-trade legislation in the Senate, touting that his policies were a sharp break from the Bush administration’s stance. Now he has adopted the far-right’s position, dubbing climate legislation “cap and tax” and opposing this piece of the “far left” agenda. In February, he even tried to claim that he had never supported cap-and-trade.
McCain also flipped on gun control, introducing a bill this year to force the District of Columbia to weaken its gun laws, in spite of the fact that McCain once served as a spokesperson for Americans for Gun Safety, a campaign that encouraged states to enact stricter regulations.
And despite once priding himself as a “maverick” who could work across the aisle, McCain has now tried to claim that he “never considered myself a maverick,” and recently promised not to work with Democrats on immigration reform.
Flip-flops are nothing new for McCain. During the 2008 campaign, ThinkProgress identified 44 separate policy items on which McCain had reversed himself, ranging from congressional ethics to foreign policy. A study from Princeton University even used statistical analysis to prove that McCain has made major shifts over his career. Still, this is not the first time McCain has tried to insist he has been consistent.