It’s a Feature, Not a Bug

The blogs are abuzz over the new ad John McCain is running featuring former Hillary Clinton supporter Debra Bartoshevich declaring that she will now vote for McCain.  

The interest in the ad stems primarily from a press conference the GOP arranged in Denver featuring Bartoshevich and other Clinton supporters who are now backing McCain during which, when asked if she was concerned about McCain’s anti-choice record, Bartoschevich replied:

Going back to 1999, John McCain did an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle saying that overturning Roe v. Wade would not make any sense, because then women would have to have illegal abortions.

As several blogs have already pointed out to Bartoshevich, McCain most certainly does want to overturn Roe v. Wade and has a long history as an anti-choice zealot.  His campaign website even unequivocally proclaims:

John McCain believes Roe v. Wade is a flawed decision that must be overturned, and as president he will nominate judges who understand that courts should not be in the business of legislating from the bench.

Presumably, that point was fed to Bartoshevich by the McCain campaign – it’s unlikely she’d be citing obscure, decade-old Chronicle interviews on her own. So the interesting thing here is not Bartoshevich’s confusion about McCain’s views; it’s the fact that a central theme of the McCain’s campaign outreach to former Clinton supporters seems to hinge on sowing this sort of confusion.  

Back in June, when the McCain campaign was first making overtures to Clinton supporters, the candidate went out of his way to reassure them that he was nothing like President Bush and that when it came to nominating Supreme Court justices, they would have nothing to worry about.  

As the New York Times reported:

Mr. McCain, who opposes abortion rights, also promised he would not perform a litmus test on potential judges.

Politico reported something similar:  

[A former Clinton supporter] said he’d liked McCain’s answer on judges, in which he “pointed out that he supported Bill Clinton with both Ginsberg and Breyer.”

So when he is reaching out to Clinton supporters, he assures them that he’ll have no litmus test and highlights his past support for Democratic judicial nominees, creating the misimpression that he is a moderate on the issue, rather than the anti-choice his record reveals. 

Interestingly, as we pointed out a few weeks ago, he does the exact opposite whenever he is trying to prove his conservative credentials to right-wing audiences, immediately citing his pledge to appoint nominees like John Roberts and Samuel Alito whenever the issue arises.  

Thus, the confusion some people have over just where McCain stands on choice, Roe, and the future of the Supreme Court is entirely understandable; it’s the direct result of the McCain campaign’s deliberate strategy.

As Dahlia Lithwick recently put it:

John McCain is banking on his reputation as an independent maverick to snooker voters into thinking that his abortion views are centrist, no matter what he actually says.