McCain said he couldn't blame Bush for the "Mission Accomplished" banner. He said though "he would be reluctant to ever declare 'mission accomplished' in Iraq, but suggested rosy early predictions of success there by President George W. Bush and other officials fueled public frustration with the war. 'I thought it was wrong at the time,' McCain told reporters in Cleveland, where he continued a week-long tour to discuss his health care plans. 'I thought phrases like 'a few dead-enders,' 'last throes,' all of those comments contributed over time to the frustration and sorrow of Americans,' he said. 'Those were, unlike the banner, direct statements that were contradicted by facts on the ground.'"
But is that really the case? A YouTube dredged up by liberal group Progressive Media USA shows McCain on FOX from June 11, 2003 -- five weeks after Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech. [A correction: The DNC informs us that the creation of this video comes from their research shop.]
ANCHOR TO MCCAIN: …Many argue the conflict isn't over.
MCCAIN: Well, then why was there a banner that said 'Mission Accomplished' on the aircraft carrier? … The major conflict is over. The regime change has been accomplished.
There's also this: "McCain on Thursday backed off his assertion that pork-barrel spending led to last year's deadly bridge collapse in Minneapolis. With Democrats criticizing him for citing wasteful spending as the cause of the disaster, McCain told reporters in Cleveland, 'No, I said it would have received a higher priority, which it deserved.'"
The Washington Times looks at McCain's attempts to start reaching out to moderates. "Faced with a crumbling Republican Party image, Sen. John McCain is gambling on a general-election strategy that relies on winning over conservative Democrats and independents, breaking with President Bush's 2000 and 2004 game plan of focusing on the party's core voters." More: "He is on a weeklong tour to discuss his concern over health care costs, and recently completed a weeklong tour of impoverished areas where Republicans don't often campaign. That included a high-profile visit to Inez, Ky., where former President Lyndon B. Johnson announced his war on poverty and the place former Democratic presidential hopeful and former Sen. John Edwards visited during his own populist campaign."
"Some of Mr. McCain's tactics make it seem as if he is chasing Mr. Edwards' Democratic supporters by adopting a populist criticism of 'greedy' corporate CEOs and by traveling to New Orleans to deliver a rebuke to Mr. Bush -- the city Mr. Edwards used to launch, and later end, his own presidential bid. Noting there are more Democrats and independents up for grabs than in recent elections, Frank J. Donatelli, the Republican National Committee's deputy chairman, says Mr. McCain needs a center-right coalition to win, just as the Democrat will need a center-left coalition."
National Journal's Victor writes that many social conservatives are no longer so angry at McCain for his work on the Gang of 14, which forged a compromise on Bush's judicial nominations. "Back then, conservative and evangelical leaders singled out McCain for scorn. His leadership in the bipartisan Senate group reinforced their impression of him as an unreliable politician who could not be counted upon to steadfastly support what they saw as paramount conservative principles… Today, almost exactly three years after that extraordinary parliamentary brinkmanship, the conservatives' raw anger has cooled. And McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has begun to work at mollifying his once fierce detractors. Some of the critics insist that the senator must provide plenty more reassurances about his judicial philosophy to win their total favor. But they also say that the fallout from the Gang of 14's work actually was not so dire."
Speaking of, according to USA Today: "On Tuesday, as Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama battle in North Carolina's primary, McCain will discuss judicial nominations in the Tar Heel state. He also has agreed to speak in mid-May at the National Rifle Association convention in Louisville."