John McCain may not remember it

but he almost certainly did differentiate between John Roberts and Samuel Alito, suggesting that the latter might be too conservative. He did so at a meeting with conservative lawyers in April 2007. Robert Novak writes:

I talked to two lawyers who were present whom I have known for years and who have never misled me. One is neutral in the presidential race, and the other recently endorsed Mitt Romney. Both said they were not Fund’s source, and neither knew I was talking to the other. They gave me nearly identical accounts, as follows:
“Wouldn’t it be great if you get a chance to name somebody like Roberts and Alito?” one lawyer commented. McCain replied, “Well, certainly Roberts.” Jaws were described as dropping. My sources cannot remember exactly what McCain said next, but their recollection is that he described Alito as too conservative.

This, then, is the consistent recollection of a number of sources who were at the meeting.
It’s no accident that while Giuliani, Thompson, and (to a lesser extent until recently) Romney built up impressive rosters of conservative lawyers who backed them, McCain came up largely empty.
UPDATE: This piece by Wendy Long helped me see a connection between the Alito flap and my prior post about how McCain makes decisions. How did McCain decide that Roberts was fine but Alito might be too conservative? I doubt that he read their opinions which, in any case, would not support that conclusion.
More likely, he picked up this view because it was “in the air” — in the Senate, probably on the pages of the New York Times and the Washington Post, etc. But how did this view get into the air? Because, as Long points out, liberals cooked it up in order to bring Alito down. They had already tried to pin the “too conservative” label on Roberts but that failed mostly because Roberts did so well at his hearing. This put the burden on liberals to portray Alito as “worse” than Roberts. Not many Republicans bought this, but evidently McCain did.
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