Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and his Republican primary challengers, former Rep. J.D. Hayworth and conservative activist Jim Deakin, met for their second debate in as many nights on Saturday, following a sometimes tense first encounter on Friday evening. In many ways the debate was a repeat of the first — and thus a decent win for McCain by default — but with some fun moments along the way.
McCain went into this weekend’s debates leading in the TPM Poll Average by 52.3%-30.6%. Hayworth needed land some serious punches on McCain, or else get lucky and have McCain do some damage to himself, and neither really seemed to happen.
But one thing remains clear: These two guys really don’t like each other.In his opening statement, Hayworth slammed McCain for voting against the 2001 Bush tax cuts and calling them at the time “tax cuts for the rich.” Hayworth said that McCain then was “Sounding a lot more like John Kerry than the John McCain I used to work with.”
McCain then went right after Hayworth: “After he was rejected by the voters of his district he came back and was a paid lobbyist, then was a talk show host, and of course was a late night star doing infomercials.”
Shortly afterward, during a discussion on porkbarrel spending, McCain tied Hayworth’s defeat for re-election in 2006 to the overall ills of the Republican Party: “They brought Congressman Hayworth in in 1994 and they pushed him out in 2006 because the spending got out of control. We went from surpluses at the beginning of our Republican majority to deficits because we let spending get out control”
The single biggest issue that dominated the debate was immigration, with McCain promoting his bonafides on border security and Hayworth frequently needling McCain for having worked on a comprehensive immigration reform package with the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), and otherwise challenging McCain’s credentials.
“John was sparing in his criticism of Barack Obama,” Hayworth said. “If John had told the truth about President Obama the way he’s spreading falsehoods about me, he would be president right now – and maybe he would do a better job on the border.”
McCain also made clear his support for Arizona’s new law cracking down on illegal immigration. “The situation is dire. We have now the federal government suing the state of Arizona because the federal government has not fulfilled its responsibilities to secure the border. Now they’re suing the state of Arizona, why aren’t they suing the city of Chicago, which is a sanctuary city? Obviously that’s a contravention of federal responsibility. I’m proud of our governor, I’m proud that she’s stood up. We had to pass that legislation through our legislature, which was signed by our governor because the federal government was not fulfilling its responsibilities.”
For his part, Deakin often served as a voice to question the conservative credentials of both of the two candidates. “I think it’s great to see two big spenders talk about how they cut taxes and cut things,” he said at one point. Overall, this served to undercut Hayworth’s claims of “consistent conservatism,” as Deakin pointed to Hayworth’s deficiencies in his votes for the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, the No Child Left Behind Act, the Patriot Act and others.
Deakin also jokingly pointed out the tenseness of the McCain-Hayworth battle, at one point asking moderator Bill Buckmaster: “Do you have a timeout chair? Because we might need it. It got pretty ugly last night.”
The attacks got especially nasty when McCain noted that Hayworth referred to himself as having “returned to private life.” “You get that? ‘When I returned to private life.” You get that one?” said McCain, chuckling a bit. “The voters sent him back. It wasn’t a voluntary action, to return to private life.”
McCain then pointed to Hayworth’s work on a 2007 infomercial for a company promoting costly seminars on how to get “free money” in federal grants, an act that Hayworth has admitted was a mistake. “He said he didn’t do due diligence. Now Channel 4 right here in Arizona, in Tucson, did an investigation and said this is a terrible scam, really a terrible ripoff,” said McCain. “So what did Congressman Hayworth do? And what did you get paid for that, by the way? How can you call yourself a conservative when you tell people to spend thousands of dollars for a seminar so they can get, quote, ‘free money’?”
When his turn came up again, Hayworth fired back at McCain’s reference his having lost re-election. “John, you should know about rejection sir, being rejected by the United States twice,” said Hayworth, also adding that McCain didn’t run a strong campaign against Barack Obama in 2008.
Another compelling moment came during discussion on Afghanistan, when McCain strongly criticized President Obama for having a stated date of withdrawal, saying that this sent a message to the enemy that they could wait out the Americans, and in turn that it discouraged allies on the ground. “That is an uncertain trumpet. No one follows an uncertain trumpet,” said McCain.
During his turn, Hayworth then criticized McCain, going back to his actions in 2005: “You held up the defense appropriations to get rid of enhanced interrogation techniques…I understand John’s strong feelings on the subject, but the problem was, in the statute and the language, we held out to our enemies that we would subscribe to the Army Field Manual. We sent a message to our enemies, allowing them to teach to the test.”
When his turn came up, McCain cited another Hayworth gaffe on the subject of military history and expertise. “You don’t understand. According to Congressman Hayworth, we didn’t declare war on Germany.”
McCain then got serious, and explained how militants themselves have said that Abu Ghraib became a focal point for their recruitment, and that he knows for a fact that there are better ways to get intelligence. He then alluded to his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam: “And I know for a fact that if you torture someone and inflict enough physical pain, they will tell you anything you want to know. Now there is always the one in a million case, and that is where the President of the United States takes responsibility. I know about this very, very well.”
(ed. note: All quotes used herein are rush transcriptions, and may be subject to future editing.)