Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Saturday that voters are frustrated with the war in Iraq because of the Bush administration’s unrealistic projections early in the conflict.
The Arizona senator told reporters he was pleased with Gen. David Petraeus’ testimony before Congress this past week because it “did not present this totally rosy scenario. That’s why Americans are frustrated today.”
He blamed “different administration officials” for that. “It’s all the president’s responsibility,” McCain said, but those reporting to him were also responsible.
Earlier in the day, McCain was critical of former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, saying his failings “frustrated and saddened” the American people.
McCain was in the midst of the South Carolina leg of his “No Surrender” tour, a trip that took him from Rock Hill in the Upstate to Little River along the coast near Myrtle Beach. At each of four speeches, he urged voters to pressure Congress to stay the course in Iraq. And he told reporters that Democrats are heading down a “blatantly unconstitutional” path on the war.
He drew crowds of 200 or better at each stop as he urged people to write lawmakers, including wavering Republicans, and “stand up for these young men and women” in uniform.
Between stops, McCain told reporters that Democrats, including presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, plan to overstep the role of Congress by trying to specify how long troops should stay in action.
“Where in the Constitution of the United States does it say that the Congress decides how long people spend on tours of duty and how long they would spend back in the United States? It’s blatantly unconstitutional,” McCain said.
McCain showed the crowds a copy of a newspaper advertisement, bought by the group MoveOn.org, that charged Iraq war commander Petraeus with “cooking the books” on the Iraq war. It also played on his name by asking, “General Petraeus or General Betray Us?”
“My friends, that is a disgraceful thing,” McCain said at a packed Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Rock Hill.
McCain appeared with his wife, Cindy, who was on crutches and wearing a knee brace. She said she fell while grocery shopping and will have surgery to correct damaged ligaments.
In Florence, McCain led a parade and stopped at a barbecue restaurant before heading to the Aynor Hoe Down, a festival in a town not far from the resort area of Myrtle Beach. McCain’s “No Surrender” tour continues through Monday in South Carolina as he tries to re-ignite a campaign that foundered during the summer amid staff cuts and the backlash from his support of unpopular immigration-reform legislation.
In 2000, McCain suffered from rough-and-tumble campaigning here at the hands of Warren Tompkins. The former Bush consultant is now running Mitt Romney’s South Carolina efforts and was in the news in the past week after an employee put up an Internet site, PhoneyFred.org, that lampooned White House hopeful Fred Thompson.
McCain said he has higher standards for his campaign. “We have never engaged in any of those kind of activities,” he said. “I will not allow such a thing to happen.”
McCain plans to spend Sunday courting voters around Anderson, a Christian conservative base for the state’s GOP. McCain, who is Baptist, said he’s not emphasizing his religion in a state where Baptists are the dominant faith. “It plays a role in my life,” McCain told reporters. “Do I advertise my faith? Do I talk about it all the time? No.”
Still, he said, “it’s why I’m here today.”