NO, MCCAIN REALLY IS THAT CONSERVATIVE. As my colleague Matt noticed, the good folks over at The New Republic are playing some full-court press in defense of John McCain. A couple days ago, editor-at-large Peter Beinart offered his plea to see McCain stick close to his populist, contrarian roots, even offering up a unity scenario in which McCain runs as an independent with a Democrat veep. Today, Jon Chait offers a more full-throated defense of McCain on the merits, arguing that:

In addition to shepherding campaign finance reform through Congress--against the administration's efforts to kill it quietly--he co-sponsored a patients' bill of rights with John Edwards and Ted Kennedy; co-sponsored with Charles Schumer a measure to allow the importation of generic prescription drugs; co-sponsored with John Kerry legislation to raise auto emissions standards; and co-sponsored legislation with Joe Lieberman to close the "gun-show loophole" and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in compliance with the Kyoto accords. On all these things he sided with Democrats against the White House and virtually every Republican.[...]

McCain also showed signs of abandoning his social conservative views. He came out in favor of government-financed stem cell research. During the 2000 presidential campaign, he declared "certainly in the short term or even in the long term, I would not support the repeal of Roe v. Wade." He said that if his daughter wanted an abortion, he would leave the decision up to her. (He did retreat from both these comments after conservatives recoiled in horror, but his real thinking on the subject seemed perfectly clear.)

Let's take these in reverse order: The Arizona maverick might publicly waffle on abortion, but he has exactly 0% from NARAL. That means he doesn't even accidentally cast the occasional pro-choice vote. Far worse, Gary Bauer has publicly explained that he endorsed McCain in 2000 because, unlike Bush, McCain was willing to promise him a pro-life Supreme Court nominee, while Bush stuck to his "no litmus test" line. And as Scott Lemieux notes, there's no contradiction here: McCain's daughter is wealthy, and, in a post-Roe world, could easily jet to California for an abortion.