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“McCain vs. McCain On Cuba”: Whatever President Obama Supports, John McCain Opposes, Whether It Makes Sense Or Not

When Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) angrily disagrees with President Obama, it’s about as common as the sunrise. But when McCain reject his own views from a few years ago, something more important is happening.

Yesterday, for example, McCain issued a joint press statement with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), offering a rather predictable condemnation.

“We agree with President Obama that he is writing new chapters in American foreign policy. Unfortunately, today’s chapter, like the others before it, is one of America and the values we stand for in retreat and decline. It is about the appeasement of autocratic dictators, thugs, and adversaries, diminishing America’s influence in the world. Is it any wonder that under President Obama’s watch our enemies are emboldened and our friends demoralized?”

To be sure, the rhetoric is stale and tiresome. Almost all of this, practically word for word, has been a staple of McCain press releases for six years. The point is hardly subtle: when it comes to foreign policy and international affairs, whatever President Obama supports, John McCain opposes, whether it makes sense or not.

That’s not the interesting part. Rather, what McCain neglected to mention yesterday is the fact that he used to support the very changes the Obama White House announced yesterday.

In May 2008, the Arizona Republican was his party’s presidential nominee, and he traveled to Miami to endorse the same U.S. policy towards Cuba that’s been in place since 1960. The Wall Street Journal ran this report at the time, noting the degree to which McCain had “evolved” on the issue.

Sen. McCain’s stance on Cuba appears to have evolved since the 2000 presidential primaries, when he faced Mr. Bush, then the Texas governor. At the time, Mr. Bush played to the Cuban-American exile community and Mr. McCain acted the moderate, recalling his role in normalizing relations between the U.S. and Vietnam and saying the U.S. could lay out a similar road map with the regime.

What’s more, as long-time readers may recall, the Miami Herald reported in 1999 that McCain was the only Republican presidential candidate that cycle who believed “there could be room for negotiation on the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba.”

A year later, McCain told CNN, “I’m not in favor of sticking my finger in the eye of Fidel Castro. In fact, I would favor a road map towards normalization of relations such as we presented to the Vietnamese and led to a normalization of relations between our two countries.”

Going back further, to 1994, McCain opposed cutting off remittances because it punished people “whose misfortune it is to live in tyranny.”

In other words, what McCain used to believe is largely the opposite of what McCain said yesterday. One can only speculate as to why the senator shifted – perhaps McCain reflexively opposes everything Obama supports, maybe he’s moved much further to the right in recent years, perhaps it’s a little of both – but the previous versions of the senator probably would have been quite impressed with the president’s announcement yesterday.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 18, 2014

December 19, 2014 Posted by | Cuba, Foreign Policy, John McCain | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Forced To Take A Position”: On Cuba, GOP Presidential Hopefuls Trapped By Older Voters And The Past

For a guy who was supposed to be mired in unpopularity and bored with his job, Barack Obama is sure making life hard for Republicans, not to mention complicating their task in winning the White House in 2016. The Republican reaction to his decision to normalize relations with Cuba may have been exactly what everyone expected, but it shows just how trapped those who want to get the GOP presidential nomination are. They’re snared by the past, by the need to oppose everything that Obama does, and by what we might consider the base of their base — older voters for whom Cold War antagonisms still feel fresh, even as the rest of the country is leaving them behind.

Every Republican contender who found himself facing a microphone yesterday condemned the decision to normalize relations, none more so than Marco Rubio, who appeared on over a dozen TV programs to condemn it. While there’s no doubt that Rubio’s position is sincere (he’s the child of Cuban immigrants), consider what position you’d be in if you were a GOP contender who actually thought this move was overdue. While both parties have supported the embargo and a policy of unceasing antagonism toward the Castro regime for decades, your party held that belief particularly close to its heart. In order to win the nomination, you’re going to need the support of lots of older voters. For them, the Cold War defined their political coming-of-age and most of their lives. Vigorous anti-communism was at the core of what it meant to be a conservative, along with support for low taxes, small government, and traditional social values. Their kids and grandkids may see opposition to communism as an issue that’s in the past, but it’s still important to the way those older voters think about the world.

This means that while some Republican politicians (like Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona) may support normalizing relations, if you want to get the GOP presidential nomination, it just isn’t an option. And that’s despite the fact that not only is normalization supported by a majority of Americans, but also in some polls even a majority of Republicans support it, or if not a majority then nearly so. For instance, in this 2009 Gallup poll (they haven’t asked recently), 42 percent of Republicans supported re-establishing diplomatic relations, 44 percent supported ending the trade embargo, and 57 percent supported ending travel restrictions. Or look at this poll from the bipartisan Atlantic Council earlier this year:

As on many other issues, the passage of time and the change of generations make a move away from the traditional Republican position all but inevitable. Even a majority of Cuban-Americans in Florida now support ending the embargo. In the time period in which so many Republicans still live psychologically — the 1980s, when Reagan was president, we knew who our enemies were, and everything was going great — such a thing would have been inconceivable. It’s happening because the children and grandchildren of those who fled Castro’s regime don’t have the same intense feelings that the immigrant generation had, and they don’t see what continuing Cuba’s isolation will accomplish.

Despite these changes in the broader population and among Republican voters in particular, a candidate seeking the presidential nomination can’t take the risk of alienating the older voters who will play such a key role in the GOP primaries. And by bringing the issue to the front pages and the top of the policy agenda, Barack Obama has forced them to loudly take a position that will hurt whoever the nominee is in the general election. Not bad for a lame duck.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; The Plum Line, The Washington Post, December 18, 2014

December 19, 2014 Posted by | Cuba, GOP Presidential Candidates, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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