March 22, 2007

McCain Backtracking On Kennedy Partnership?

The Boston Globe notes that Ted Kennedy feels a lack of commitment from his partner on immigration reform these days. John McCain calls and chats, but will not agree to any specifics for renewing their previous efforts on a strategy for comprehensive reform. Kennedy will work on his own while McCain keeps trying to distance himself from his former partner and conservative bête noir:

Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John McCain have all but abandoned plans to cosponsor a comprehensive immigration reform bill this year, as McCain faces tough questions from conservatives on the presidential campaign trail about his support for immigrants' rights.

Kennedy, frustrated by the slow progress of his negotiations with McCain, is instead considering filing a bill on his own, modeled largely on the measure endorsed by the Senate Judiciary Committee last year. McCain is continuing to talk to Kennedy about immigration proposals, but the Arizona Republican has not committed to supporting Kennedy's approach.

The erosion of the unlikely political partnership that brought the liberal Kennedy and the conservative McCain together on immigration suggests a tough road ahead for passing a sweeping immigration measure this year. Further complicating efforts to find consensus, a group of Republicans is working with the White House to draft an alternative bill.

McCain's hesitancy about joining Kennedy on the same issue they worked together on in the previous Congress also speaks to an emerging dynamic in the Republican presidential race.

McCain has encountered anger from hard-line immigration foes on the campaign trail, particularly over an aspect in last year's bill that would have allowed most undocumented immigrants to work toward citizenship. Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, one of McCain's rivals for the GOP nomination, has been especially sharp in his condemnation of McCain's approach to immigration.

Of course, that would be the same Mitt Romney who once declined to oppose the McCain-Kennedy approach in earlier days, which points out an interesting dynamic in this cycle. Candidates have not been given much room to evolve on positions for the 2008 race, and this story seems to underscore that. McCain may genuinely want to move away from his previous position to something more moderate -- for instance, a security-first plan that should please moderates. But will moderates give him any credit for doing so, especially now that he wants to run for the Presidency?

I asked Hugh Hewitt that question today in a conference call this afternoon. Hugh, whose book on Romney was the main topic of conversation, disagreed with me on this point, saying that the flip-flop meme was more of a commentariat artifact than a real concern for voters. The Republicans certainly used it to great effect in 2004 on John Kerry, however, making him appear (rightly) as indecisive and inconsistent.

I believe that is one reason Rudy Giuliani continues to lead in the early polling for the primary. Hugh correctly asserted on the call that the war on terror remains the chief concern for Republican voters, and they want someone who projects strength and focus. That explains why the GOP voters have overlooked Rudy's Rockefeller brand of Republicanism -- but I believe it is because he has refused to apologize for his beliefs, and refused to pander by backtracking on his public positions. He has stood up -- respectfully -- to the social conservatives, who have not been happy about Rudy's domestic policies but trust him to stand up to the terrorists.

Romney is fortunate, in this regard, because he has plenty of time to define himself. The YouTube moments, as Hugh also pointed out, have come out early and will not sting nearly as much. That is not the case for John McCain, who as his staff notes puts himself at the center of every policy debate. His positions on campaign finance reform and immigration have not only made national headlines, but in most cases he has chosen the role of scold while offering his opinion on all of the major networks. For McCain, a shift in position does not look like evolution as it could for Romney, but opportunistic pandering -- and neither speaks well when considering which candidate will stick to his guns, and ours, in the war against Islamist terrorism.

To be fair, though, McCain should get some credit for backing away from Kennedy and reconsidering his stances on immigration. Had he not been so sanctimonious at times in the past on this issue and campaign-finance reform, he might have gotten it, too.

Note: I didn't post about the Hugh Hewitt conference call because I had to do it while in transit to the hospital to see the FM. I didn't have time to take notes. Robert Bluey, Justin Hart, and Matt Lewis did post about it, so be sure to check them out. And don't forget to order Hugh's book -- I've just begun to crack it open, but from what I see it will be an indispensable reference to the Romney campaign.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Comments (14)

Posted by marcus [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 22, 2007 6:56 PM


Don't forget that we are looking back with the benefit of hindsight. When the McCain/Kennedy bill was first being worked on, Romney was non-commital. He hadn't read it. He hadn't studied it. It was an attempt to deal with a serious issue and hadn't settled into its final form, yet.

Romney hates knee-jerks reactions, especially over something as important as this. It isn't his style. It never has been. So when asked about it when it first came up, he was vague. There were some good points. There were some bad points.

After he had a chance to study it and things had settle somewhat, he began expressing opposition to it.

Another thing to remember is Romney was a Governor who was concentrating mainly upon running a state, and less on second-guessing Congress and the President. There were several occasions when asked about goings on in Washington where he replied in effect, "I won't tell them how to run the Federal Government, and they won't tell me how to run Massachusetts." He was also the Chairmen of the Republican Governors charged with getting Republicans elected, not tearing them down.

The 2006 elections are now history. Romney is no longer Governor, he is spending a great deal of time studying all the federal issues, and he is in direct competition with McCain.

Posted by richard mcenroe [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 22, 2007 7:13 PM

It's McCain. He'll always be looking for a better offer, 'til he casts his vote... and beyond.

Posted by dwightkschrute [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 22, 2007 7:32 PM

Seeing how Mr. Hewitt 1. is Romney's #1 fan, 2. becomes an unfailingly loyal sycophant to his politicians, and most importantly 3. was wrong on just about everything in the run up to the 2006 election I think I'll take his insight with a Costco sized container of salt.

Posted by Rose [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 22, 2007 8:47 PM

McCain is realizing that his following isn't as big as his ego - though it hasn't sunk in on him on THOSE terms, yet - he's searching for the front of the parade so he can go jump out ahead of it and tell himself he is the parade marshall.

Posted by Adjoran [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 22, 2007 9:00 PM

Does this mean McCain has moved to the original Bush position, which was somewhat more restrictive than McCain-Kennedy, or has he moved to the right of Bush's plan, too?

Just how far will McCain go for political expedience. He could trump even Tancredo by adopting the Buchanan position: deport everybody with a foreign-sounding name.

If you go back and listen to McCain's statements at the time, though, you will hear his typical righteous tone and a man who believes his position is the only correct one. Just like BCFRA, where his vehement insistence that "money corrupts" speaks more of his own personal record than of Congress in general.

Ed's use of the word "scold" to describe McCain hit the bullseye. The Senator is as big a pain as a reformed smoker.

Posted by Lew [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 22, 2007 9:16 PM

John McCain has almost become a cartoon of himself!

He's become a one dimensional cardboard character totally driven by his ravenous and relentless ambition, and he'll turn his back on anybody he needs to, to follow his master.

So now he doesn't want to be buddies with Teddy anymore because the base of his party is not too pleased with the results of previous collaborations. And right now our darling Johnny needs the base REAL BAD. I'm sure Teddy know's this game real well and probably won't hold it against Johnny all that much. He knows the rules.

But Johnny - Darling Johnny! - is so painfully transparent that he's almost the only one left on earth who hasn't seen completely through to the other side and figured out that there's nothing in there.

Posted by DaveR [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 22, 2007 9:34 PM

Conservative Christians aren't too concerned that Rudy doesn't handle snakes in church on Sunday, because they know he knows how to handle the snakes in the Middle East and in the Democratic Party the rest of the week!

Posted by Rose [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 22, 2007 10:02 PM

"To be fair, though, McCain should get some credit for backing away from Kennedy and reconsidering his stances on immigration. Had he not been so sanctimonious at times in the past on this issue and campaign-finance reform, he might have gotten it, too."

Yeah, but to be perfectly fair, though, any GOP pol who has sucked up soooo hard to both Feingold AND Toady Chappaquiddick Kennedy, such a person cannot possibly pay too much of a price for such vicious perfidity against America.

Posted by richard mcenroe [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 22, 2007 11:25 PM

"the Buchanan position: deport everybody with a foreign-sounding name."

Because Buchanan is an Iroquois name?

Posted by SkyWatch [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 23, 2007 12:08 AM

McCain and Edwards should team up.That way we can forget about them and pay attention to people who have a chance.

Posted by Adjoran [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 23, 2007 12:28 AM

richard mcenrone ~ Good one, except there is no such thing as an "Iroquois name," of course - Iroquois was the name given by Euro=peons to the confederation of six tribes in New York, Pennsylvania, and Canada (naturally none of those bore their modern names at the time).

Buchanan is Scottish, obviously - President Buchanan lent his name and image to a Scotch whiskey after leaving office - but Patzi does seem tolerant of other white, English-speaking Protestants, so long as they don't try to import any goods for resale.

He probably makes exceptions for those of Germanic origin, too.

Posted by AST [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 23, 2007 5:24 AM

I'm getting a vibe that McCain doesn't really have the fire in his belly this time out. He seems to be counting on moderates and swing voters to win the primaries for him. Good luck with that.

I don't know what to think about Romney any more. I don't think he's a flip-flopper. I think that he just feels more free to say what he really thinks since he's not trammeled by having to represent Massachusetts any more. It's not like he voted to authorize the war and now wants to denounce it, and cut the knees out from our troops.

Posted by Harleycon5 [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 23, 2007 8:13 AM

Boy, Senator McCain must have gotten quite an earful in Iowa. I mean this is the guy who bites his upper lip and turns red every time anyone disagrees with him on TV; now he humbly says he might rethink his stance on immigration? How many people does it take telling the Senator that illegal immigration is their MAIN issue for him to finally react?
Sure I give him credit for even listening, since the Bush Admin has barely even done that, and has been more likely to take Vincente Fox's advice than any American. But, it must be noted that I don't think that McCain really believes he will have to back away from amnesty in the end, and this is just a play to be President. If he were to be elected, I think he would probably "reconsider" his position yet again. One could only hope that there is a difference between a flip flopper and a person willing to reconsider his position.
I don't know where McCain falls in that scheme.

Posted by spectregunner [TypeKey Profile Page] | March 23, 2007 11:07 PM

Bwaahhhhhhh....even Teddy, where the hell is that - hiccup- bridge...Kenndy is discovering that he can't trust John McCain.

There is a God and He has a wonderful sense of humor.