Despite Once Agreeing With Democrats’ ‘Philosophy,’ McCain Is Now The Senate’s Most Conservative Member

According to the National Journal’s new ideological rankings of Congress members, released this afternoon, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) — who once characterized himself as an independent “maverick” — has repositioned himself so far to the right that he is now tied with Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and John Barrasso (R-WY) as the Senate’s most conservative member. McCain earned an 89.7 out of 100, which even beat out the reliable right wingers like Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL).

McCain’s new radical-right stance contrasts heavily with preceeding years, when he was regularly ranked around the 45th most conservative member of the Senate. The difference grows even more when taking into account that McCain, in 2004, dissed his own party and said that he agrees with the Democrats’ “philosophy“:

‘I believe my party has gone astray,’ McCain said yesterday, singling out GOP stands on environmental issues and racial set-asides. ‘I think the Democratic Party is a fine party, and I have no problems with it, in their views and their philosophy,’ he said. ‘But I also feel the Republican Party can be brought back to the principles I articulated before.’ And he took another shot at President Bush. ‘You can’t fly in on an aircraft carrier and declare victory and have the deaths continue. You can’t do that.’

McCain’s conversion to the hard right is perhaps most evident through his changing stances on the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT). McCain was once an optimist for the repeal of DADT, even saying in 2006 that “the day that the leadership of the military comes to me and says, ‘Senator, we ought to change the policy,’ then I think we ought to consider seriously changing it.” That day arrived when both Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Mike Mullen came out in favor of repealing DADT. Instead of considering their suggestions, as he said he would, McCain said that he was “disappointed.” When the Senate voted to lift the ban, McCain said “today is a very sad day.”

His shift is also apparent on immigration. In 2007, McCain said that building a “fence is [the] least effective” way to combat illegal immigration. On the eve of the 2008 presidential election, McCain told the Spanish-language station Univision that his immigration plan did not include “walls and fences.” Then, in a 2010 campaign ad, McCain completely changed his stance, infamously telling a sheriff to “complete the danged fence.”

Dropping a term he once embraced, McCain’s shift to the hard right is so drastic that he has even come out to say he “never considered [him]self a maverick.”

Paul Breer