Transcript: Sen. John McCain on 'FOX News Sunday'

The following is a partial transcript of the Oct. 21, 2007, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: Well, joining us now to discuss his campaign, which has been up, down, and is trending back up again, is Senator John McCain.

And, Senator, welcome back to "FOX News Sunday."

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN: Thanks, Chris. Up, down, up, down.

WALLACE: Well, no, I didn't say down again. You're going to be on that stage debating in a few hours, and it looks like it's going to be a real donnybrook over the question of who is the real Republican.

You have gone after Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney this week for their lack of conservative credentials. What's your problem with them?

MCCAIN: Well, in the case of Gov. Romney, when he said that he represents the Republican wing of the Republican Party, a parody on what Howard Dean said, as we know — I think there's lots of good Republicans in the race, and we can all claim to be, quote, Republicans.

But when you took liberal positions on issues in Massachusetts, as perhaps he had to in order to get elected, all of the things that he did — said he didn't want to go back to the Reagan-Bush years, supported a Democrat for president of the United States, Paul Tsongas, and contributed to a Democrat running for office in New Hampshire, basically has changed positions on every — on many major issues, then I have to take exception to it.

Look, you can't con the voters. If you want to win their respect, you've got to give them your respect. And by giving them your — you give them your respect by telling them exactly where you are, where you're going, what you stand for and you don't change with the political season.

That's the way I've always been, and I think that's the way to gain the voters' respect.

WALLACE: Well, the Romney camp, not surprisingly, fires back saying who are you to talk about being a real Republican.

They say you opposed the Bush tax cuts. You were the main supporter of campaign finance reform and, of course, you supported a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

MCCAIN: And the interesting thing is those last two are the exact same positions that Governor Romney had 18 months ago. He was in favor of public financing for political campaigns. He had exactly the same position on the immigration issue.

So, look, I have a consistent conservative voting record for more than 20 years, and those are graded by different organizations — the National Taxpayers Union, Citizens Against Government Waste.

Certainly, on national security, I have the knowledge and experience and background, and so I'm the only one that saved the taxpayers $2 billion when I was able to defeat the effort to have an Air Force tanker that cost more than $2 billion more than it should have and people went to jail.

I can fight the waste and unnecessary spending. And again, I'll stand on my record by objective observers, and there's plenty of them.

WALLACE: Let's talk about campaign finance preform, because for a lot of conservatives, I think that's your original sin, if you will.

Romney says, for instance, that it hurt the Republican Party, it's restricted free speech and, worst of all, it hasn't worked because billionaire liberals like George Soros have just given their millions of dollars to these so-called independent 527 groups.

Even Fred Thompson, who was one of your main co-sponsors back in 2002, now says it was a mistake.

MCCAIN: Well, I'm grateful for Fred's support on that. It was McCain-Feingold-Thompson and we couldn't have done it without him, so I'm very appreciative of his support.

WALLACE: Yes, that was five years ago. He's not saying that now.

MCCAIN: Well, look, there's millions of more small donors. The 527s need to be eliminated. That's because the Federal Elections Commission won't enforce existing law, which was 1974.

Party leaders will tell you that national and local parties are in power, but most importantly, look, I saw — I worked there — soft money, people calling up, members of Congress calling up a union leader, a trial lawyer, a corporate head and say, "I need a seven- figure check from you, and your bill is up before my committee."

Soft money was corrupting. If anybody thinks that we need more special interest money in Washington, I'd like to meet them.

WALLACE: So, bottom line, if you had it all to do over again, would you still go for McCain-Feingold?

MCCAIN: Absolutely. You've seen the corruption in Washington. We have former members of Congress in federal prison.

The approval rate for Congress is down around 11 percent because the law was not fully implemented, and the '74 law on these so-called 527s — 527s are a disgrace and they have to be eliminated because they're clearly in violation of the law.

But again, if anybody thinks that special interests didn't write legislation in Washington, they didn't work there.

WALLACE: Let's talk some foreign policy. President Bush said this week that we run the risk of World War III if Iran gets nuclear weapons, but let's talk about a country that already has them, and that's Pakistan.

That country appears to be on the brink. We have the attempted assassination of Benazir Bhutto this week — more than 130 people were killed — tremendous political instability, raging Islamic terrorism.

How serious a threat to U.S. interests if Pakistan is destabilized, and what would President McCain do about it?

MCCAIN: It's very serious. In fact, suppose they had succeeded and assassinated Benazir Bhutto. Look at the situation that we might be in just at this moment.

Waziristan, where I have visited, is clearly at least partially under the control of Taliban and Al Qaida military units who are launching attacks into Afghanistan.

The Pakistani army has not been successful, and they made this unholy truce with them which has led to attacks into Afghanistan.

WALLACE: So what happens to us if the country is destabilized? How serious a threat?

MCCAIN: I think it is a nuclear nation. We know that it's a nuclear nation. I am convinced that there are some military people within Pakistan who are more Islamic than the present leadership — radicalized, I mean.

This is a very serious situation. And I think that what the United States of America should be doing is encourage the reconciliation between Bhutto and Musharraf. I would hope that we would be able to defuse some of the situation.

I hope that they would revoke that unholy kind of truce that they made with the tribes in Waziristan, which is supporting Taliban and Al Qaida, and recognize that it is in the United States' national interest to see a stable future for Pakistan. And it's very serious.

WALLACE: Some people say that when you add the nuclear component to it that, in fact, Pakistan, not Iraq, is a central front in the war on terror right now.

MCCAIN: It would have to be a very, very radical regime to take over for it to be a nuclear threat. Iran right now developing weapons, a country that's dedicated to the extinction of Israel, in my view, is a far greater threat.

But the instability in the region, of course, is going to be a serious challenge, and when we failed in Iraq, my friend, the ripple effect was all over the Middle East and reached as far as Afghanistan and Pakistan. Have no doubt about it.

WALLACE: You like to say that Congress has lost its way, the GOP particularly, on government spending and that, in fact, when the Republicans were in the majority, they spent like a drunken sailor, except, as you say, that really besmirches drunken sailors.

MCCAIN: It's an old line, yes.

WALLACE: A campaign gives some insight into what kind of a president you would be, and I wonder about your record when it comes to campaign spending.

You've raised $30 million so far this year, but as of October 1st, you're basically broke. So the question becomes why should taxpayers trust you to manage the U.S. treasury given how you've managed your own campaign treasury?

MCCAIN: Well, we made mistakes, budgetary mistakes, and we are now back on track. I've never been in a campaign where we didn't make mistakes.

But I think they would view my record in the Congress of the United States fighting against — successfully many times, against the wasteful earmark and pork barrel spending, supporting and working to achieve the line-item veto and working with other fiscal conservatives in sometimes a very lonely fight.

And we've succeeded a number of times. Overall, we have failed. And that's why I want to be president. I want to take the ink pen and veto every bill.

So we're back on track. We have made some errors and I continue to be very pleased at the progress of our campaign and the money that's coming in.

WALLACE: But should somebody look at how you've managed your campaign and say that might have some crossover to how you'd act as president?

MCCAIN: I don't think so. But they're free to make any judgment that they want. I've been in many, many campaigns and we've done well. Sometimes we've made mistakes and sometimes we haven't.

But overall, I'm proud of my record of service. I'm proud of my fiscal conservatism. And I'm proud of my record of service to the country. And I would hope they would judge that overall.

And I'm proud to stand on that record as really the only one right now conservative that can beat Senator Clinton when she's the nominee.

WALLACE: Are you going to accept federal matching funds?

MCCAIN: We haven't made that decision yet, and it's not a decision we need to make immediately. We can continue to consider all options.

WALLACE: Will you take out a multimillion-dollar loan to keep your campaign going?




WALLACE: So it's either federal matching funds or go it alone.

MCCAIN: Right now I'm saying, though, we examine all the options all the time. Every few days we sit down — where are we going, what are we doing, like every campaign I've ever been in, what are all the options.

So I don't rule out any option, but I certainly think that borrowing money is not something that I would prefer to do, but I won't rule out any option. But this is process stuff.

Look, town hall meetings are great in New Hampshire. South Carolina, we're doing fine. Iowa, we've got a lot of work to do. I'm very happy with the trend and where we are going in the polls.

I'm the only one with the least amount of money that's going up in the polls.

WALLACE: Well, I think maybe Mike Huckabee is, too, but we'll get to him in a minute.

This country hasn't elected a senator to be president since jack Kennedy in 1960. And generally, voters go for governors who have run something.

Senator, what have you ever run in your career?

MCCAIN: I've run the largest squadron in the United States Navy, and I didn't run it, I led it. It was tens of millions of dollars of assets, training brave young Americans to go fight and defend the country.

I'll defend my leadership of 1,000-men and -women organization with the management of anything that anybody else has done.

And that's direct service to the country, and by the way, also it happens to help that I have a background in military national security issues. I need no on-the-job training.

WALLACE: A year ago, you were the frontrunner. A year ago, if we had been sitting here, you would have been the frontrunner for the Republican nomination, running, in effect, as the establishment candidate.

First of all, what happened? And what does it say about John McCain that you seem so much more comfortable running as the insurgent, as the maverick?

MCCAIN: I think, as I say, we've made some mistakes. But every campaign I've ever been in, there's been ups and downs in those campaigns. I didn't expect it to be a day at the beach. We've got good people running.

WALLACE: I'm not talking process. But what were the mistakes? I mean, in a substantive sense, what were the mistakes?

MCCAIN: Well, a little straight talk — immigration reform was something that Americans, because they didn't trust the government — they have no trust or confidence in the government. They didn't believe us when we said we'd secure the borders. I got the message, we're going to secure the borders.


MCCAIN: First. We're going to have to. I'll have to have, as president, the governors of the border states certify that the borders are secured.

Because of Katrina, because of Iraq, because of the corruption in Washington, they have no confidence in us. So I'm going to restore trust and confidence. And I can do that by my record and my leadership.

So I think immigration reform, obviously, was something that hurt me with the base. That was probably primarily.

With some, particularly independents, the war in Iraq. I understand that. It's not popular, particularly when I was saying it is the key and fundamental issue, and other candidates were not even talking about it.

I'm the only candidate that said you've got to stop this Rumsfeld failed strategy and you've got to adopt this new strategy.

I'm the only one that said that, and I was severely criticized by Republicans for saying that this Rumsfeld strategy won't work, because they said I was disloyal. I was right.

WALLACE: So — about a minute left — what would it tell us — I mean, if you agree with the idea, and I think you do, that you're more comfortable not with this big money, fancy, heavy campaign, but lean and mean and, as I say, an insurgency, what does that tell us about the kind of president you'd be?

MCCAIN: Well, I would hope that it would be one who puts the country's interests first. I would hope that it's one who's not afraid to make the hard decisions.

I don't want to go there to do the easy things. I want to do the hard things. We need to fix Social Security. We need to fix Medicare.

But most of all, we need to win this struggle against radical Islamic extremism. My qualifications, I think, lend me to the consideration of the voter, and I also am the only conservative that has the best chance of defeating Senator Clinton.

WALLACE: Senator McCain, we're going to have to leave it there. We want to thank you so much for joining us today. And good luck in tonight's debate, sir.

MCCAIN: Thanks for having me on.