'Insider' McCain Punches Back

It's become a problem for John McCain in this presidential race: He's now too inside Washington, people say. He's gone Establishment. His support for the war is killing him with those independent voters he wants to attract. And now, his support of an immigration reform measure is hurting him with his party's conservative base.

All of which is true. So it was kinda fun to see the old McCain fight back this week with some punch in his lines--particularly about his GOP presidential opponents who are confronting him on all kinds of issues. This week, it was Mitt Romney--the fellow who is beating him in Iowa by 30 percent to 18 percent in the latest poll. And he hit Romney where it hurts--on the matter of flip-flopping on everything from his antiabortion stance (he used to be pro-abortion rights) to immigration to guns.

It started when McCain and Romney fought openly last week at the GOP presidential debate in South Carolina. There, McCain questioned Romney's, er, steadfastness, on the issues. But now, with Romney firing at McCain over the immigration issue--a longtime pet project for the Arizona senator--McCain is ready to take more direct aim, which he did in a conference call with bloggers. Romney has called the measure amnesty, although about a year ago, he said that those illegal immigrants who are here paying taxes and not taking government benefits should be allowed to start the process toward citizenship. Now Romney is singing a different tune--and McCain wants everyone to know.

"Maybe I should wait a couple of weeks and see if it changes," he said, "because it's changed in less than a year from his position before." Ouch. Then it gets worse. "Maybe his solution will be to get out his small varmint gun and drive those Guatemalans off his lawn."

What's that all about? It's about Romney's assertion that he has been a "rodent and a rabbit hunter, small varmints," even though he joined the NRA only last August. And a newspaper also reported that some illegal immigrants did yard work for Romney. Hence the McCain quip.

It's getting nasty out there. And it's only May--of 2007.

By Gloria Borger