McCain caters to GOP vot­ers; flips po­si­tion on key is­sues

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Stephen Di­nan

Sen. John McCain has qui­etly been pil­ing up flip-flops, in­clud­ing ditch­ing his long-held sup­port for the Law of the Sea con­ven­tion and telling blog­gers he now op­poses the DREAM Act to le­gal­ize il­le­gal alien stu­dents.

The sea treaty has be­come the latest lit­mus test for the 2008 Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial field, and af­ter a decade-long record of pub­lic sup­port for it, Mr. McCain has piv­oted to bring him­self in line with the rest of the can­di­dates.

“I would prob­a­bly vote against it in its present form,” he told blog­gers two weeks ago dur­ing a con­fer­ence call.

Repub­li­can pri­mary vot­ers tilt to the right, and the sea treaty is an­other ex­am­ple of Mr. McCain veer­ing to try to align him­self with them, re­cant­ing po­si­tions along the way on im­mi­gra­tion, tax cuts and cam­paign-fi­nance re­form.

Mr. McCain’s sup­port for the sea treaty stretched back to the 1990s, when he signed a let­ter with three other sen­a­tors urg­ing its pas­sage, and con­tin­ued through 2003, when he was sched­uled to tes­tify on its be­half be­fore a Se­nate com­mit­tee.

But af­ter the rest of the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial field took a stand against the treaty this month, Mr. McCain had lit­tle choice but to change, con­ser­va­tives said.

“Where does that put him? Does he alien­ate the base again like he did on im­mi­gra­tion or does he go with the con­ser­va­tives’ feel­ing on this? In this case, McCain was sen­si­ble and re­al­ized he re­ally doesn’t have a choice,” said Robert B. Bluey, the blog­ger who asked Mr. McCain about his po­si­tion on the treaty dur­ing the con­fer­ence call.

The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion wants the sea treaty, ar­gu­ing it will bring sta­bil­ity and en­sure nav­i­ga­tion rights to the U.S. Navy. Crit­ics say the treaty could lead to an in­ter­na­tional tax­ing power and cre­ates new in­ter­na­tional tri­bunals that could hurt the United States.

A McCain cam­paign oper­a­tive said the sen­a­tor rethought his po­si­tion on the treaty over the past year, and con­cluded it con­tains threats to sovereignty.

The oper­a­tive, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity, couldn’t say why those threats weren’t ap­par­ent be­fore, though in his con­fer­ence call Mr. McCain told the blog­gers he is wor­ried about global warm­ing and the in­ter­na­tional race to claim the Arc­tic.

Mr. McCain — who has been a sup­porter and even a co-spon­sor of the DREAM Act, the De­vel­op­ment, Re­lief and Ed­u­ca­tion for Alien Mi­nors Act — also said dur­ing the con­fer­ence call that he would have op­posed it on the Se­nate floor last week if he had stuck around for the vote.

The cam­paign oper­a­tive said Mr. McCain made that flip ear­lier this sum­mer af­ter the fail­ure of his sig­na­ture im­mi­gra­tion bill, which he worked on with Pres­i­dent Bush and Sen. Ed­ward M. Kennedy, Mas­sachusetts Demo­crat.

“The sen­a­tor has said 1,000 times since im­mi­gra­tion re­form failed this sum­mer that he got the mes­sage. The Amer­i­can peo­ple want the border se­cured first,” the oper­a­tive said.

Flip­ping po­si­tions is stan­dard busi­ness for cam­paigns.

Sen. Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton and for­mer Sen. John Ed­wards have both re­canted their sup­port for the war in Iraq, for­mer Sen. Fred Thompson and for­mer New York Mayor Ru­dolph W. Gi­u­liani have at least par­tially re­nounced their sup­port for the 2002 cam­paign-fi­nance over­haul, and Mr. Gi­u­liani has even flipped on sup­port­ing the Bos­ton Red Sox in the World Se­ries.

But Mr. McCain’s list is grow­ing fast — pos­si­bly be­cause he brings a longer record — and is com­ing on sig­na­ture is­sues that bear his name, such as the McCainKennedy im­mi­gra­tion pro­posal.

The prob­lem for Mr. McCain, says one Repub­li­can strate­gist un­af­fil­i­ated with any cam­paign, is that his ap­peal to vot­ers is based on his will­ing­ness to stick to his own con­vic­tions.

“It’s a lit­tle bit hard to be driv­ing that Straight Talk Ex­press while sip­ping that French nu­ance,” said Michael McKenna, a Repub­li­can poll­ster.

Cliff Kin­caid, pres­i­dent

of Amer­ica’s Sur­vival Inc., who has been a leader in fight­ing the sea treaty, said Mr. McCain did what he had to do to keep his cam­paign afloat.

“Sen­a­tor McCain was a vic­tim of pro-treaty pro­pa­ganda, en­gi­neered by Navy lawyers, pre­vi­ously stacked Se­nate hear­ings, and [In­di­ana Repub­li­can Sen. Richard G.] Lu­gar’s mis­lead­ing claims in fa­vor of the pact,” Mr. Kin­caid said. “To his credit, McCain has wised up. His de­ci­sion should def­i­nitely help pre­vent his pres­i­den­tial cam­paign from sink­ing like the Ti­tanic.”

Two weeks ago, Mr. Thompson and for­mer Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney an­nounced their op­po­si­tion to the treaty, fol­low­ing the lead of for­mer Arkansas Gov. Mike Huck­abee, who is try­ing to turn the is­sue into a ma­jor cam­paign point. And on Oct. 30, Mr. Gi­u­liani also came out in op­po­si­tion, call­ing it “fun­da­men­tally flawed.”

Mr. McCain’s state­ment to blog­gers was some­what more equiv­o­cal that Mr. Gi­u­liani’s. Mr. Bluey, who is also di­rec­tor of the Her­itage Foun­da­tion’s Cen­ter for Me­dia & Pub­lic Pol­icy, said it ap­peared Mr. McCain “was try­ing to leave him­self some wig­gle room.”

Mr. McCain said there is a need for a law of the sea, with some tweaks.

“I have not frankly looked too care­fully at the latest sit­u­a­tion as it is, but it would be nice if we had some of the pro­vi­sions in it. But I do worry a lot about Amer­i­can sovereignty as­pects of it, so I would prob­a­bly vote against it in its present form,” he said, ac­cord­ing to a tran­script posted by Mr. Bluey.

As­so­ci­ated Press

Will­ing to be flexible: McCain

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