While John McCain’s positions haven’t changed much — with a few exceptions like the Bush tax cuts — his emphasis is much different than when he lost South Carolina in 2000. With Phil Gramm at his side, McCain emphasizes the need to cut spending as well as taxes. He uses his standard drunken sailor analogy and then, Gramm-like, asks whether taxpayers would rather have pork barrel spending or an expanded child tax credit. He describes Gramm and himself as “foot soldiers in the Reagan Revolution.”
McCain also emphasizes his military credentials in a state with many veterans and current troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. He touts his “No Surrender Tour,” arguing that it helped defeat a Democratic push for a timeline for withdrawal from Iraq six months ago. He argues that his early no-confidence vote in Donald Rumsfeld and support for the surge helped pave the way to a winning strategy, pointing to yesterday’s USA Today story reporting that the number of secure neighborhoods in Baghdad has risen from 8 percent to 75 percent. He repeats his promise to follow bin Laden to “the gates of hell.”
McCain also talks about the need to improve health care for veterans. He would remove bureaucratic hurdles where people “stand in line to stand in line” and allow veterans to use vouchers to visit a health care provider of their choice.
Again, none of these positions are any different from those McCain might have taken in 2000 (other than they we were in the pre-Iraq war days). But talking about these issues puts him in a better position than arguing about the Confederate flag, tax cuts, and the religious right. We’ll see if it pays dividends here today.
UPDATE: Eve Fairbank contends that McCain has changed the substance of his immigration position, at least for the duration of the campaign. I think that’s a fair charge even if McCain’s new position doesn’t necessarily mean what Fairbanks thinks it means. She claims “‘go to the back of the line’ is code for deporting or otherwise getting the 12+ undocumenteds here to leave.”
Under the situtation we have right now, we are neither amnestying illegal immigrants or being particuarly aggressive about getting them to leave the country (although enforcement has been stepped up). Some of the “comprehensive” immigration bills would have allowed illegals to stay in the country but would have made them “go to the back of the line” when applying for citizenship. Some Republican candidates are running on attrition through enforcement, which is an aproach to getting at least some subset of the “12+ undocumenteds here to leave,” but isn’t a program of mass deportation. And as far as I can tell, McCain hasn’t come out for a policy that would go even this far.