McCAIN vs. THE BASE, PART 487….National Journal sets the stage for today’s Senate vote on a bill banning the CIA from using torture:

Supporters will need 60 votes to advance the bill, meaning they will need some Republicans to cross party lines. [Harry] Reid said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., could be a major swing vote, given his previous support for legislation against torture. But a spokeswoman for McCain, a Republican presidential candidate who has been trying to bolster support from party conservatives, did not return telephone calls and an e-mail late Tuesday seeking comment.

And why was the famously anti-torture and press-friendly senator avoiding phone calls last night? Because he ended up voting against the bill.

But hey — who can blame him? It’s one thing to be against torture in a primary debate where you’re trying to appeal to independents and crossover voters, but it’s quite another thing to be against torture after you’ve won the nomination and need to appease a conservative base that’s righteously pissed off and not afraid to let you know it. A base that Joe Klein watched in action last November when McCain told Mitt Romney, “We’re not going to torture people. We’re not going to do what Pol Pot did. We’re not going to do what’s being done to Burmese monks as we speak”:

I attended Frank Luntz’s dial group of 30 undecided — or sort of undecided — Republicans in St. Petersburg, Florida, last night…and it was a fairly astonishing evening. Now, for the uninitiated: dials are little hand-held machines that enable a focus group member to register instantaneous approval or disapproval as the watch a candidate on TV.

….When John McCain started talking about torture — specifically, about waterboarding — the dials plummeted again….Down to the low 20s, which, given the natural averaging of a focus group, is about as low as you can go. Afterwards, Luntz asked the group why they seemed to be in favor of torture. “I don’t have any problem pouring water on the face of a man who killed 3000 Americans on 9/11,” said John Shevlin, a retired federal law enforcement officer. The group applauded, appallingly.

These are the voters McCain needs now, and these voters don’t want a president who opposes state sanctioned torture of captive prisoners. So McCain doesn’t oppose it anymore. Any questions?

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