McCain on Ted Cruz: Have these self-proclaimed Reagan Republicans forgotten that Reagan gave amnesty to three million illegals?

We’ve reached the point where I honestly can’t tell if he means this as a criticism or not.

However, he did get in some criticism of the speakers, who included Cruz, at the Conservative Political Action Conference last week.

“All of these people at the CPAC will claim that they are Reagan Republicans,” McCain said. “Did they forget that Ronald Reagan gave amnesty to three million Americans? Do they forget that he did raise taxes, that he made an agreement with Tip O’Neill on Social Security, that Ronald Reagan said [the] 11th commandment is you don’t speak ill of your fellow Republicans?”

In the theme of invoking these compromises, McCain also said raising taxes should be an on the table as part of entitlement reform.

“Look, you have to put everything on the table,” he said when asked if a package could include taxes. “If you don’t put everything on the table, then the opposite side says, ‘OK, but we’re not going to agree to, say, raising the retirement age.’ “


Rule one among amnesty fans like Maverick: “Amnesty” is bad. They oppose amnesty. To them, as long as there are some preconditions to securing legal status for illegals — learn English, pay your back taxes, blah blah blah — then the process isn’t “amnesty.” Why would McCain choose to use that word in describing Reagan’s immigration measure in 1986? You could, of course, argue that what Reagan did was even more lax than what McCain’s Gang of Eight proposed, i.e. that Reagan’s law was a true amnesty whereas McCain’s really isn’t, but why would Maverick want to draw that distinction when he’s ostensibly praising Reagan here? He seems to be saying that Reagan’s more moderate moments were a good thing — he compromised and he got stuff done, unlike that incorrigible wacko bird Cruz who’s always scheming for ways to shut down the government. Sounds like he’s sort of claiming Reagan for the center-right, including his record on tax hikes and, er, “amnesty.”

Right? He surely doesn’t mean this in a “Reagan had his flaws too” way. Here’s what he said to another reporter this afternoon when pressed on Paul and Cruz:

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., weighed in on the debate between Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, over Ronald Reagan’s foreign policy legacy.

“I knew Ronald Reagan,” McCain said to the Washington Examiner. “They’re no Ronald Reagan. OK? They’re not.”

Reagan, McCain said, actually reached across the aisle to work with Democrats on national security issues as well as domestic concerns.

“Ronald Reagan used to have drinks with Tip O’Neill,” he said. “Ronald Reagan made an agreement on Social Security that raised taxes.”


Maybe that’s the next rhetorical move on immigration reform from Republican supporters: Win one for the Gipper. (It’s all yours if you want it, Team Rubio.) In that case, is it fair to assume that McCain also agrees with Paul that Reagan was a more complex figure on foreign policy than he’s typically given credit for? I take it Maverick would resist, claiming that Reagan was a superhawk in the McCain mold instead, but there’s just no way that’s true. Show of hands: Who thinks President McCain would have withdrawn from Lebanon after the 1983 Marine barracks bombing? (He did vote against extending the Lebanon mission in the early 80s, but for complex reasons. And the older McCain seems considerably more hawkish than the younger version.) Who thinks President McCain would have withdrawn from anywhere once U.S. troops were in the field? In the McCain foreign-policy cosmology, withdrawal is always proof of a lack of resoluteness and therefore a gesture of provocative weakness. Pulling out under fire only emboldens the enemy. Which raises the question: Who among the three, McCain, Cruz, and Paul, is closest to the Reagan foreign-policy tradition? Or do we not know enough about the latter two to make any judgment yet?

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