2012 GOP race is 'nastiest' campaign yet, McCain says
March 18th, 2012
11:54 AM ET
10 years ago

2012 GOP race is 'nastiest' campaign yet, McCain says

(CNN) – Sen. John McCain knows his way around rough politics: an opponent started rumors during the 2000 presidential race that he fathered an illegitimate African-American, and a CNN fact check called false his 2008 vice presidential pick's assertion that now-President Barack Obama was "palling around with terrorists."

But the veteran politician from Arizona – first elected to the Senate in 1986 – said Sunday that the current Republican presidential campaign is the most brutal race he has seen, fueled in part by super PACs that have rivaled campaigns in spending on this election.

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"This is the nastiest I have ever seen," McCain said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

The two-time presidential contender is not watching this GOP primary entirely from the sidelines: McCain is among several high-profile political figures actively stumping for Mitt Romney, and one of his roles has been to attack former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on behalf of the former Massachusetts governor.

"When you have a Las Vegas casino mogul - by the way, who gets part of his money from Macao - pouring $20 million into a campaign, obviously that drives up people's unfavorables," McCain said of donations to a pro-Gingrich group by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife. A casino in the Chinese semi-autonomous region of Macao is owned by a company under Adelson's control. Forbes lists him as the seventh richest person in the United States.

Another super PAC favoring Gingrich, Winning Our Future, spent $1.3 million on advertising, most of it critical of Romney, in South Carolina, according to CNN media consultant CMAG. A source close to Adelson told CNN in January that the donations were with "no instruction" and that Adelson had no role in strategy or advertisement content.

McCain, co-author of campaign finance legislation known as "McCain-Feingold" that limited corporate and private donations, has been harshly critical of the U.S. Supreme Court's "Citizens United" decision that cleared the way for super PAC spending. He predicted Sunday "there will be scandals and then maybe we will reform again."

The super PAC funding, as well as weakness on Romney's part, is keeping Gingrich's campaign afloat, McCain said.

"Mitt Romney will tell you he has to do a better job and he has to focus on the economy. And he has been giving speeches on the economy and jobs, and I think he is improving dramatically as a candidate," he added.

– CNN Senior Producer Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.

Filed under: 2012 • John McCain • Mitt Romney • Newt Gingrich • Republicans
soundoff (63 Responses)
  1. Larry L

    The GOP invented the "swift boat" and their official media outlet is Fox News – owned by Rupert Murdoch! They take pride in "statements not intended to be factual"!

    March 18, 2012 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  2. Johngm

    Why is CNN not showing the REUTERS and PEW polls showing obama beating Romney significantly? Obama's Poll Numbers never dropped as suggested by the outlier Washington Post poll!! CNN cited this poll over and over for three days only to find out in the PEW and REUTERS pools that Obama was actually beating Romney by two digit figures!

    March 18, 2012 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  3. Margaret

    Yes, Senator McCain this is one of the nastiest campaigns and once they get over the infighting, it will become even nastier. You were the one who brought Sarah Palin into it, pandering to the far right. If you had not gone over to the dark side a lot of Independents, and middle of the road Democrats would have probably supported you. Even the right wing extremists would have held their nose and voted for you, it is for sure they would never vote for President Obama. I have not heard you getting up and "telling them like it is", explaining that gridlock is not helping the country, that just saying no to everything is not working. Got some ideas to make things better speak up.

    March 18, 2012 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  4. Seola

    We can't also forget if you have anything negative to say about Obama's policies – you ARE a against whatever race you are speaking against!! Because questioning anything related to our country while Obama is President automatically makes you one . Gotta love vitriol and attempts to squash questions. It's weak because you can't defend against the REAL issues – you just call a name and "poof" you think you are right!

    March 18, 2012 03:20 pm at 3:20 pm |
  5. Thomas

    Time to retire !

    McCain / Palin
    Four more years 2012

    March 18, 2012 03:22 pm at 3:22 pm |
  6. tom

    I blame the Supreme Court who (GOP majority of course) who passed that law that allowed these uncontrollable super PACS to donate unlimited funds to basically 'elect' the person they want to be president. NO ONE should have that kind of power and I think this circus of a primary should prove to everyone that this law needs to be overturned and let's go back to the way it was with restricted amounts of donations anyone can make....and not hide behind as these GOP billionaires are doing. One man alone is funding Newt....isn't that just wrong???

    March 18, 2012 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  7. johanna

    man, i kind of miss mccain. the candidates this time around are a bunch of snakes.

    March 18, 2012 03:26 pm at 3:26 pm |
  8. mikrik13

    Super Pacs and starting campaigns/primaries a year before an election are a big part of the problem. Super Pacs massively funding negative campaign ads. States wanting to be first to have primaries pushing the campaign season ahead are completely unnecessary and certainly have no actual bearing on who becomes the party's nominee. Especially since those early states do not represent any kind of cross section of the American voting citizenry. Combining too much time and too much money to create an incredibly nasty situation with no focus on the real issued facing this great country of ours.

    March 18, 2012 03:30 pm at 3:30 pm |
  9. roanhorse

    The Republicans have come to be known for their wish to return to America in the 50's where everything was as it should be. The problem is that for many Americans, those times were not wonderful in terms of civil rights for women and minorities. The hateful remarks against our President and individuals not deemed "real Americans" is so sad. We are all Americans and we all want the same things that people everywhere wish for – peace, a place to live, work, and respect for one another. United we stand, divided we fall.

    March 18, 2012 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  10. NateFromIndiana

    I'm not sure that people are any more vicious than they've ever been, but the combination of Citizen's United and round the clock media saturation gave those who were so inclined a bully pulpit that's arguably unprecedented in several ways. It was always possible to generate attacks, but the unlimited access to advertising dollars is not a good trend.

    March 18, 2012 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  11. waikikijohn

    he forget what his campaign allowed VP candidate Palin say on the campaign trail. It opened up the floodgates

    March 18, 2012 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  12. tom

    I think Mc Cain is losing his memory cells faster and faster. The 'Penguin' seems to forget how nasty he was 4yrs ago and let's not even talk about the absurd evil made up crap his Barbie-VP candidate said about EVERYONE who disagreed with her. Her "palling around with terrorists" remark was one of the most outrageous attacks made by anyone...let alone constantly suggesting he wasn't an american. Yes...it's nasty out there...but let's put the blame where it belongs...Super Pacs and more directly the GOP Supreme Court...they should be ashamed of themselves...but are probably not.

    March 18, 2012 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  13. Observer

    Barack Obama said before the last campaign that he wouldn't resort to personal attacks. He kept his word in spite of the fact that McCain and Palin couldn't.

    Now, things are getting even nastier for Republicans. No class.

    March 18, 2012 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
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