Romney Campaign - Straight Talk Detour: McCain's attack ad history

Here’s a historical refresher on Senator McCain’s penchant for attack ads on his fellow Republicans.

While we point out differences on substantive and relevant issues like McCain’s troubling votes against tax relief and for amnesty, the senator from Arizona lashes out and gets personal:


In 2000, A McCain Ad Said George Bush "Twists The Truth" Like Bill Clinton

"I guess it was bound to happen. Governor Bush's campaign is getting desperate … His ad twists the truth like Clinton.We're all pretty tired of that." – Sen. John McCain, 2000 (McCain 2000,Campaign Ad, 2/9/00)

To watch the 2000 campaign ad, click here :

Sen. McCain Says That Airing His Positions On Issues Is An Attack:

Sen. McCain Complains That A Simple Airing Of Policy Positions Is "Attacking." SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: "If there’s any doubt that we’re doing well, it’s when Mitt Romney starts attacking." ( National Review Online, Posted 12/28/07)

But A Polite Contrast On Issues Is Hardly An Attack. "As so-called attack ads go, this seems rather mild. It focuses on McCain's record, doesn't call him names, and even offers that McCain is an 'honorable man.' There's nothing objectionable about it in that sense. Campaigns are all about making choices, as both men make clear." (Ed Morrissey, "A Tale Of Two Television Ads," Captain's Quarters Blog,,Posted 12/28/07)

An Actual Attack Ad Would Compare Your Republican Opponent To Bill Clinton:

In 2000, Sen. McCain Ran An Attack Ad Comparing Then-Gov. Bush To Bill Clinton. SEN. MCCAIN: "I guess it was bound to happen. Governor Bush's campaign is getting desperate, with a negative ad about me. The fact is, I'll use the surplus money to fix Social Security, cut your taxes and pay down the debt. Governor Bush uses all of the surplus for tax cuts, with not one new penny for Social Security or the debt. His ad twists the truth like Clinton. We're all pretty tired of that. As president, I'll be conservative and always tell you the truth. No matter what." (McCain 2000, Campaign Ad, 2/9/00;

Conservatives And Republicans Decried McCain's Personal Attack On George Bush:

Bill Bennett Said The McCain Ad Should Be Pulled. BENNETT: "I think the McCain ad is wrong. I think they should pull that ad. I have to agree, to compare George Bush to Bill Clinton is really ridiculous. I mean, Bill Clinton is one of the most corrupt people to ever occupy a public office ... This is not good for the man who run the straight talk express to compare Bush with Clinton." (ABC's "Good Morning America," 2/8/00)

· Bennett: "Well, politics is a contact sport and I understand that, but there are personal fouls from time to time and I think this is over the top, this ad." (MSNBC's"The News With Brian Williams," 2/8/00)

Fred Barnes : "Instead, He's Come Back And Likened George W. Bush To Bill Clinton -- I Think That's A Little Over The Top For A Republican Primary Audience." (Fox News'"Special Report," 2/9/00)

Karl Rove: "Senator McCain Should Be Ashamed Of His Ad. It's A Sad Moment When He Runs An Ad Comparing Governor Bush To Bill Clinton. He Should Be Ashamed. He Should Be Ashamed." (CNN's "InsidePolitics," 2/8/00)

Oliver North: "I Think That John McCain Ad Of Comparing George W. Bush To Bill Clinton Is Unfair And Is A Characterization. I Think It Ought To Be Pulled." (MSNBC's"Feedback," 2/08/00)

Bush Spokeswoman Karen Hughes Said McCain Should Be "Ashamed" Of The Ad. "Bush spokeswoman Karen Hughes today called the handshake ad 'offensive.' Speaking on ABC's 'Good Morning America,' Hughes said McCain 'should be a shamed' of comparing Bush to President Clinton's 'level of dishonesty.'" (Laura Meckler, "McCain, BushEscalate War Of Ads," The AssociatedPress , 2/8/00)

Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-SC) Said There Was "No Excuse" For McCain's Tactics. SEN. STROM THURMOND: "There is no excuse for the negative ads that Senator McCain's strategists and politicos are running in South Carolina. They reflect poorly on my friend from Arizona and they are a sad commentary on the contemporary political process. This ad represents exactly the type of tactics that Senator McCain denounces and the sort of message that the people of this country have rejected." (Sen. StromThurmond, Press Release, 2/8/00)

Ari Fleischer: "Suggesting That Governor Bush Is As Dishonest As Bill Clinton Is A Disservice To Our Party And Our Principles.” (Laura Meckler, "Bush, McCain Attack Each Other," The Associated Press , 2/8/00)

Sen. Fred Thompson (R-TN): "I Don't Think John Should Have Done That, And I Don't Think John Thinks He Should Have Done That." (CNN, "Crossfire," 2/14/00)

South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon Decried The Ad As A "Personal Attack" On George Bush. "Bush supporters, upset by a McCain ad saying a Bush ad 'twists the truth like Clinton,' held news conferences around the state saying the ad should come off the air. State Attorney General Charlie Condon, who appeared in Charleston, said, 'Comparing him to Clinton that goes to character. This is a personal attack on someone's integrity and trustworthiness.'" (Rachel Graves And Schuyler Kropf,"Politicians Take Issue With Rivals," [Charleston, Sc] The Post And Courier , 2/9/00)

Former First Lady Barbara Bush Called The Ad "Desperate." BARBARA BUSH: "I got it. I saw it, but I think that's very ugly, and I think that does sound desperate. and I'm sorry. I like John and I'm sorry he's doing that. I like him less after I've heard that than I liked him before." (CNN, "Late Edition,"2/13/00)

The Media Called The McCain Campaign's Personal Attacks On Bush A Mistake:

The Washington Post Said That McCain’s Ad "Contains The Harshest Charge Any Presidential Candidate In Either Party Has Hurled Against A Rival This Season." "While decrying negative campaigning, this ad contains the harshest charge any presidential candidate in either party has hurled against a rival this season … it contains some misrepresentations…while Bush criticized the Arizona senator on policy, McCain's ad attacks him personally, likening Bush's trustworthiness to that of Clinton…McCain also seems to be abandoning the handshake agreement not to turn negative." (Howard Kurtz, "McCain Likens Bush to Clinton," The WashingtonPost , 2/9/00)

CNN's Bill Schneider Said That The NegativeAd Could Be A "Mistake" For McCain. CNN's WILLIAM SCHNEIDER:"Judy, I think it's a bigger risk for John McCain. He could be making the same mistake Bill Bradley made when he went negative against Al Gore. It spoiled Bradley's strongest advantage, which was that he didn't look a typical politician. That also been McCain's strong suit -- straight talk." (CNN's"Inside Politics," 2/8/00)

ABC News' Aaron Brown: McCain "Called Bush A Liar Or Something Worse." ABC'S AARON BROWN: "Set aside, if not forgotten,were those nasty days of winter when McCain all but called Bush a liar or something worse." MCCAIN: "His ad twists the truth like Clinton." (ABC News'"World News Tonight," 5/9/00)

MSNBC's Chris Matthews: McCain's Ad "Got Him Into Big Trouble." MCCAIN: "His ad twists the truth like Clinton. We're all pretty tired of that. As president, I'll be conservative and always tell you the truth, no matter what." (END VIDEO CLIP) MATTHEWS: "Well, that was John McCain and the ad that got him into big trouble." (MSNBC's"Hardball," 3/10/00)

The Dallas Morning News' Carl P. Leubsdorf: McCain Joined In "Attack Politics." "But the beginning of his downfall occurred in South Carolina when he decided to run a television commercial stating that a Bush ad on the McCain taxplan 'twists the truth like Clinton.'With that overheated statement, which infuriated Bush, McCain signaled he was going to join the Texas governor in the kind of attack politics that has exemplified American politics in recent years." (Carl P. Leubsdorf, Op-Ed,"McCain's Missteps Hurt His Claim To Be A Political Reformer," The DallasMorning News , 3/9/00)

The Associated Press : McCain Ad "Was A Low Blow In GOP Circles." "Sometimes the risks backfire, such as a McCain ad in South Carolina that said Bush 'twiststhe truth like Clinton.'It was a low blow in GOP circles that hurt McCain with voters and gave Bush cover for his own barrage of negative ads." (Laura Meckler,"Mike Murphy, Pitching For The Other Side," The Associated Press , 3/6/00)

Roll Call's Mort Kondracke: McCain Responded To Policy Contrasts With An Ad "Seen Among Republicans As… Excessive." "[McCain] didn't like it that Mr. Bush was pointing out the similarities between his tax plan and Mr. Gore's, so he let loose with an ad charging that Mr. Bush 'twists the truth like Clinton.' That was seen among Republicans as so excessive that Mr. McCain pulled the ad off the air." (MortKondracke, Op-Ed, "McCain's Temper Run Amok," Roll Call , 3/2/00)

Newsweek's Howard Fineman: McCain's Ad "Was A Blunder." "In the other [ad], McCain said Bush 'twists the truth like Clinton.'It was a blunder for a man running as a straight-talking reformer." (Howard Fineman, et al., "Back From The Brink," Newsweek , 2/28/00)

Time's Eric Pooley: McCain's Ad "Went Too Far." "The gift was a TV commercial in which the Arizona Senator looked into the camera and charged that Bush 'twists the truth like Clinton.'The spot went too far--in South Carolina's Republican circles, being compared to Clinton is worse than being compared to Satan himself." (Eric Pooley,et al., "Read My Knuckles," Time ,2/28/00)

· Pooley: The Ad "Undermined McCain's Claim That He Was Above Politics As Usual." "Putting it on the air undermined McCain's claim that he was above politics as usual and freed Bush to amplify his attack strategies while muddying the waters on the question of which candidate was hitting below the belt." (Eric Pooley, etal., "Read My Knuckles," Time ,2/28/00)