Implying those on the right opposed to John McCain's Republican presidential bid are extremists beyond the politically acceptable, fill-in CBS Evening News anchor Harry Smith on Thursday night warned that McCain “still faces a tough battle to win the support of hard-line GOP conservatives.” Smith's characterization came a day after Time magazine's Web site headlined a Wednesday posting by Washington Bureau Chief Jay Carney, “McCain: Frail with the Far Right.” In the Thursday night CBS story in which Jeff Greenfield avoided pejorative labeling, Nicole Wallace, a CBS News political analyst who was Director of Communications for the Bush White House in 2005-2006, discounted those troubled by McCain -- whom she called “ABM Voters: Anybody But McCain” -- as “a smaller sliver of the party than we give them credit for being.”
That's the second time in eight days a former Bush operative turned network television analyst has dismissed or denigrated conservative concerns about McCain.
Back on the January 30 World News on ABC, former Bush-Cheney campaign strategist Matthew Dowd attributed conservative opposition to John McCain not to McCain's more liberal positions on many issues, but to how McCain “basically is not going to answer to anybody, especially the conservative pundits or the conservagentsia. And they don't like that.” As recounted in my January 30 NewsBusters item (with video):
ABC reporter Ron Claiborne buttressed Dowd's explanation that resistance to embracing McCain is a petty personal matter, asserting: “And that has drawn attacks from the likes of radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.” Viewers then heard an audio clip of Limbaugh: “He is not the choice of conservatives, as opposed to the choice of the Republican establishment.”
To give Wallace her due, in another soundbite she recognized the importance for McCain of winning over conservatives, advising him:
I think he has to become just as comfortable campaigning shoulder to shoulder with Tom Coburn and some of these other conservatives as he is campaigning shoulder to shoulder with Rudy Giuliani and Joe Lieberman. I mean, we have to see him just as proud of his record as a fiscal conservative and of a social conservative, as we see him with his reputation as a maverick.
The February 7 CBS Evening News story on the day Mitt Romney suspended his presidential effort:
ANCHOR HARRY SMITH: While McCain may be close to locking up the Republican nomination, he still faces a tough battle to win the support of hard-line GOP conservatives. Senior political correspondent Jeff Greenfield has that part of the story.
GREENFIELD: As word of Governor Romney's decision has spread today, the argument over John McCain's now-apparently certain nomination continued among some conservatives. On one side, dire warnings about the unthinkable alternative of a Democratic President. On the other side , pointed remarks about his political weakness.
RUSH LIMBAUGH: He's not getting the conservative base of his party voting for him. And he's, he's going to need that if he has chance of winning.
GREENFIELD: With only Mike Huckabee remaining in the race -- whose appeal outside the South has yet to be demonstrated -- there appears no plausible way to stop McCain, so why are some on the right talking about sitting out the fall campaign?
NICOLE WALLACE, CBS NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: I call them the A.B.M. Voters: Anybody But McCain voters. They are vocal. They are truly agitated by the notion of John McCain. But I think they are probably a smaller sliver of the party than we give them credit for being.
GREENFIELD: As for McCain, beyond showcasing his conservative voting record and his national security credentials, what next steps might he take?
WALLACE: I think he has to become just as comfortable campaigning shoulder to shoulder with Tom Coburn and some of these other conservatives as he is campaigning shoulder to shoulder with Rudy Giuliani and Joe Lieberman. I mean, we have to see him just as proud of his record as a fiscal conservative and of a social conservative, as we see him with his reputation as a maverick.
GREENFIELD: McCain also may have work to do on the money front. His frequent battles with drug companies, tobacco giants ad other corporate interests could make it a lot harder to tab traditional sources of Republican money, Harry.
SMITH: Of all of conservatives we have been talking about the last five or six minutes, is Mike Huckabee not a legitimate choice for them?
GREENFIELD: You know, they don't like him every bit as much as they don't like McCain. They have problems with him on immigration, on taxes. He has very un-Republican language about corporate fat cats and economic inequality.
CBSNews.com video of Smith's intro and Greenfield's story.