Novak: Is Sen. John McCain a true conservative?
"As John McCain neared his momentous primary election victory in Florida after a ferocious campaign questioning his conservative credentials, right-wingers buzzed over word that he had privately suggested that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito was too conservative. In response, McCain said he recalled saying no such thing and added that Alito was a "magnificent" choice. In fact, multiple sources confirm that the senator made negative comments about Alito nine months ago.

McCain, as the "straight talk" candidate, says things off the cuff that he sometimes cannot remember exactly later. Elements of the Republican Party's right wing, uncomfortable with McCain as their prospective presidential nominee, brought the Alito comments to the surface long after the fact for two contrasting reasons. One was a desperate effort to keep McCain from winning in Florida. The other was to get the party's potential nominee on record about key issues before he is nominated.

Those key issues do not include McCain's firmly held nonconservative positions on campaign finance reform and global warming. Rather, conservatives among the second group want two assurances: first, that McCain would veto any tax increase passed by a Democratic Congress; second, that he would not emulate Gerald R. Ford and George H.W. Bush in naming liberal Supreme Court justices such as John Paul Stevens and David Souter.

Meanwhile, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist is worried because a prominent journalist informed him that a few years ago McCain said to him, off the record, that as president he would have to raise taxes. More recently McCain has told me, on the record, that he would never support a tax increase and, consequently, favors making the Bush tax cuts permanent.

Norquist and McCain have a stormy relationship. As chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, McCain in 2005 subpoenaed records of Norquist's dealings with now-imprisoned Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Denying wrongdoing, Norquist said that McCain held a grudge against him because he campaigned against the senator's 2000 presidential bid. Norquist told me that he has no animus toward McCain and only wants assurances that McCain opposes higher taxes."

Get the Story:
Robert D. Novak: Is McCain a Conservative? (The Washington Post 1/31)

Relevant Links:
Mitt Romney -
John McCain -

Related Stories:
McCain defeats Romney in Florida primary (1/30)
Clinton, McCain and Romney score primary victories (1/21)
Romney wins Michigan Republican primary (1/16)
Clinton and McCain win New Hampshire primaries (1/9)