Schieffer Forwards Canard McCain Went from First to Fourth Because of Iraq

CBS's Bob Schieffer, on Sunday's Face the Nation, resurrected the media canard that John McCain's support of the Iraq war is what cost him the frontrunner status in the Republican presidential contest. Unlike Schieffer and other members of the press corps, McCain himself recognized that it was his lax stand on what to do about illegal immigration which plummeted him amongst GOP primary voters, a position where he is well to the left of the rest of the Republican field that, just like McCain, has backed the decision to go into Iraq and opposes withdrawal plans pushed by Democrats.

After pointing out to McCain how “you started out this campaign season basically as the front-runner,” but “you are no longer the front-runner, by a long stretch. You're running fourth in some polls,” Schieffer proposed: “Do you think the fact that you have been so steadfast in support of this war is what has cost you in those polls?” McCain realized: “I think, frankly, the immigration issue has caused me some difficulties with our base, because I think we still, we've failed to convince the American people that we're serious about securing our borders.”

Schieffer advanced the same media line popular just over a month ago. My Tuesday, July 10 NewsBusters item, “Nets Blame Iraq War Stance, Not Immigration Position, for McCain's Campaign Setbacks,” recounted:
Tuesday's CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News blamed Republican presidential candidate John McCain's reduced fundraising and low rank in the polls, which led two top advisers to leave the campaign, on McCain's view that U.S. troops must stay in Iraq -- not on how out of step he is with conservatives on the immigration bill he crafted with Ted Kennedy. CBS anchor Katie Couric declared: "No public figure has supported the President's Iraq policy more than Senator John McCain, and he's paid a heavy price for that. His presidential campaign is struggling and today, Jeff Greenfield reports, there was a big shakeup." Greenfield, at least, paired Couric's spin with the immigration issue: "Money woes are only part of the problem. His Iraq views are at odds with more and more in his own party and McCain's a sponsor of the dead for now immigration reform bill that has incensed many conservatives."

Over on NBC, in a story about the political fight over whether to withdraw troops from Iraq, David Gregory framed McCain's Tuesday morning Senate floor comments around how his stance on Iraq is what has "undermined" his campaign: "Just back from Iraq, Senator John McCain, whose presidential campaign has been undermined by his support for the war, gave the President a big boost."
The Thursday, July 12 MRC CyberAlert, “NBC's Today Blames Iraq for McCain's 'Dwindling Poll Numbers,'” reported:
NBC's Today show on Wednesday blamed Republican presidential candidate John McCain's support for the Iraq war and keeping troops in Iraq, not the Senator's frequent support for liberal policies, such his advocacy of the immigration bill which enraged conservative primary voters, for his plummeting poll numbers. Andrea Mitchell asserted in a story on the battle between President Bush and Congress over Iraq: "John McCain, just back from Iraq, defended the White House strategy, despite the political cost to his own campaign." Moments later, co-host Matt Lauer insisted: "Arizona Senator John McCain has been one of the President's staunchest allies when it comes to the war in Iraq and now that support may be partly responsible for dwindling poll numbers." Reporter Chip Reid maintained that McCain's "unwavering support of the Iraq war is unpopular with moderate Republicans," but Reid at least acknowledged how "another issue dragging him down" is "immigration reform. Many conservatives deeply resent his support for what they call amnesty."
The exchange on the August 19 Face the Nation:
BOB SCHIEFFER: You started out this campaign season basically as the front-runner. You are no longer the front-runner, by a long stretch. You're running fourth in some polls. You've had to shake up your campaign. You collected money and spent a lot, and didn't get much for it, it seems. Do you think the fact that you have been so steadpast in, so steadfast in support of this war is what has cost you in those polls?

SENATOR JOHN McCAIN: No, I think, I think, first of all, we're in good shape. And I'm happy where we are. We're back on town hall meetings, and the enthusiasm is there. And we're going to be just fine in my campaign. And every campaign has its ups and downs. I think, frankly, the immigration issue has caused me some difficulties with our base, because I think we still, we've failed to convince the American people that we're serious about securing our borders. They don't have confidence in us any more because of our failure handling Katrina, corruption in spending, and the failure in the war. And we couldn't convince them that we're serious about enforcing the borders. We have to do that. As President I would say, 'I will secure the borders.' But I still think we need a comprehensive approach to this immigration issue, including a temporary worker program. So I think that was, that was harmful to me.

Update 08-29 | Matthew Sheffield. On the same program, Schieffer also called into question a forthcoming White House/Joint Chiefs of Staff report that is widely rumored to be noting progress in Iraq:

"When I ask a question and guests start laying out conditions [...] I know that we're headed down the old rabbit trail."

"Excuse me for getting a little suspicious [...] the White House want[s] the general to deliver the report to Congress behind closed doors while Cabinet officers do the talking in public. And suddenly we're told the general won't actually write the report, but that his thoughts will be included in a summary prepared by the White House."

"This is the report the president has said over and over that he will use to decide where we go from here in Iraq. Maybe it's because I've been dragged down the old rabbit trail too many times by too many people with something to hide, but this does not sound like we're headed to a straight answer."

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center