McCain's Terrible, Horrible, No-Good Very Bad Week
I hope somebody's taking notes on this week's travails for John McCain, because if this was October and anyone was paying attention, his entire staff would be fired and the RNC would be gamely talking about random downballot races and how "2012 looks to be an up year."
The week started with a front-page story about his legendary temper, with new stories revealed therein. Then McCain embarked on a "Forgotten Places" tour this week, traveling across the country to places that "conservatives don't normally appear." And now, we know why. In Alabama, he attracted a largely white crowd in the landmark of the civil rights movement, Selma, and praised a ferry that was constructed due to an earmark, after condemning the practice. He then departed for Youngstown, Ohio, where he offered a stirring defense of free trade at a plant which closed earlier in the decade. When asked about the "cheap dumping of foreign goods" on US shores, McCain replied "I can't turn that around," which ought to be comforting to unemployed steelworkers.
Then came multiple gaffes over the situation in New Orleans. First extremist pastor John Hagee, whose endorsement McCain enthusiastically sought, reiterated his belief that Hurricane Katrina occurred as a punishment for a planned gay pride parade in the Crescent City (why Mississippi had to bear the brunt of the storm as well is unclear). McCain had to answer for these charges while docking in New Orleans, and he responded like any adult politician would, by saying "it's nonsense" eight times. Hagee has since retracted the comment, but clearly it made things awkward on McCain's stroll through New Orleans.
Of course, McCain's ideas on New Orleans aren't much better than Hagee's justifications for the hurricane. And Newsweek actually committed some journalism on that front, reaching into recent history to remind everyone that while Bush was galavanting around the country partying and ignoring the fact that New Orleans was underwater, one of his party partners was McCain:
Not only that, but McCain's prescriptions for New Orleans leave much to be desired:
Today he took a walking tour of the Ninth Ward--perhaps the most visible symbol of the Bush administration's inaction in the wake of Katrina--passing a mix of rebuilt homes and vacant, blighted houses. After the tour, McCain addressed reporters in front of a restored church. "Never again will we allow such a mishandling of a natural disaster," he vowed. "Never again."
Yet on the issue of New Orleans, it's still unclear how different McCain and Bush actually are. Speaking about Katrina, McCain, like many other Republicans, has trashed the administration's handling of the storm and has vowed to prevent similar catastrophes. "We can never let anything like that happen again," McCain told reporters on board his Straight Talk Express earlier this week. Still, the senator, who has visited the Lower Ninth Ward twice since the storm, has yet to tread into the far trickier debate over what to do about New Orleans now, a fight that has dragged on and on with little progress since the waters washed part of the city away.
The senator won't present his own plans for recovery, at least not today. Asked earlier this week if he thought the Lower Ninth Ward should be rebuilt, McCain shrugged, considering the question for several seconds. "I really don't know," he finally said. "That's why I am going … We need to go back to have a conversation about what to do: rebuild it, tear it down, you know, whatever it is."
Democrats pounced on this errant statement that McCain would be open to tearing down the Ninth Ward, and despite his media constituency running interference for him, there's no question that saying this in the midst of a tour to forgotten places was just a cardinal sin. When he was confronted about it, he claimed that he never said it despite the fact that the quote was only three days old.
McCain is of course completely constricted by his new image as a tax-cutter while still trying to keep alive the flame of the old image as a budget hawk, which essentially means that he won't be able to pay for anything that he proposes. In fact, the Washington Post hit him again, for offering tax proposals that he once considered anathema, and offering no explanation for the sudden change of heart (we know that he's unable to keep the fragile Republican coalition together without claiming to be the second coming of Milton Friedman). This leads to an endless series of contradictions.
McCain ended the week by admitting the country is worse off than it was eight years ago, despite having said the opposite on multiple occasions and offering economic proposals that are identical to Bush's. The New York Times attacked him for offering multiple favors to a wealthy Arizona friend and contributor. Oh, and McCain reveled in private fundraisers throughout this tour of "Forgotten America" this week, including one in Alabama where he got an 80% discount from a municipality on rental space and used PRISON LABOR for the event.
The McCain campaign was charged $250 to use two rooms in the hall, which normally would book for $1,200 on a weeknight. The campaign also was given free labor from Homewood City Jail inmates to set up tables and chairs for the event, avoiding a $100 set-up fee, but did pay a standard $50 cleaning fee.
He also said he would do anything he could to stop the North Carolina GOP from running their stream-of-consciousness "OBAMA WRIGHT GOD DAMNS AMERICA SCARY BLACK ZOMG!!1!" ad, which resulted in the ad running anyway. And while the media certainly gave a ridiculous amount of coverage to this ad as they will any anti-Democratic attack ad, I think the real story is McCain's impotence - not that he's trying hard, or at all, to stop the ad, but the "I deplore their behavior" pose runs a little stale when nothing is done to stop it, and there will be diminishing returns to this trick as McCain spends all his time denouncing and rejecting yet doing nothing substantial to stop the smear campaigns. He's actually in a bind over that as well.
Hell of a week. One thing that is getting lost in this primary fight is that John McCain is a pretty terrible campaigner and general election candidate. The only thing going for him is media interference, but even they can't hide the contradictions and the gaffes and the essential conservatism he's boxed himself into.