John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


The Method to McCain’s Town Hall Madness

Posted on February 20, 2013

There is a method to John McCain's madness.  There must be.

McCain did a town hall meeting in his home state of Arizona on the issue of immigration.  Town hall meetings, in the modern era, are fraught with peril for any politician.  You get all of the crazy people at town hall meetings, all of the activists, the eccentrics, the people who have nothing better to do.  You also get angry people.  Lots of angry people.

We all know what happened when Democrats did town hall meetings on President Obama's health care plan a couple of years ago.  It was pure mayhem.  People who showed up at those gatherings hated Obama, hated what he was doing on health care, and loved to bring their iPhones to capture their anger.

The town hall uprising on Obamacare almost side-tracked the legislation.   The energy created by those town hall meetings helped Republicans take back the House in 2010.

The town hall meeting became so symbolic of conservative anger that is spawned a website called, Town Hall, where all the conservatives gather to vent online, quite often at Republican leaders.

McCain and his crack political team knows all of this.  The Arizona Senator has been around the block a few times.  He is pretty good in a town hall format.  He is more than wiling to take on and debate people who disagree with him.  I think he actually kind of enjoys it.

But doing a town hall and getting yelled at by constituents isn't that much fun for any politician, no matter how thick-skinned.

And it isn't like Arizonans suddenly loves their Mexican neighbors to the south streaming across the border.  A certain sector of the Republican base is as virulently anti-immigrant as it was before the election.  Unlike John McCain --who upon announcing his latest agreement in principle with Democrats on an immigration reform bill, said that Republicans had to do something because they were getting killed with the Hispanic vote -- this disgruntled group of conservative voters don't give a rat's ass about the political prospects of the Republican Party.  They only care about their personal safety and what they hate is the fact that so many Mexicans have made their way to Arizona (by the way, Mexicans have been making their way to Arizona for about 500 years).

McCain knows all of this, but he invited the cameras in and had his town hall meeting and the crazies came out to play.

For the former GOP standard bearer, this particular town hall served several purposes.

  1. First, it reminded the Washington intelligensia how hard it is for Republicans to push for comprehensive immigration reform.  This is hard work folks and Republicans can only give so much before their political base deserts them.

  2. Second, McCain gets credit from his colleagues for showing leadership on the issue.  He is not ducking his constituents.  He is taking them head-on.

  3. Third, McCain should get credit from his constituents.  He is making his case directly to them.  He is selling something that many in his party don't really want to buy.  But he isn't staying in Washington.  He is engaging.

  4. Fourth, McCain wanted to teach the President a few things about the Republican base.   The President might think that when McCain and Rubio are bargaining, that they don't really understand their own voters.  In fact, Obama does this to Boehner all of the time.  But McCain can now give the President proof about how upset this makes his voters, and in the process, he might get a few more concessions out of him.

John McCain has been through more than a few of these battles.  That town hall blowup was no accident.