Monday, January 28, 2008

McCain's Tarnished Honor

As a follow-up to my post yesterday, here's Rich Lowry at National Review:
McCain may feel entitled to this cheap shot given his own courage on the surge. He also might think that his press coverage is so adoring that he can get away with anything, and Romney is so firmly branded as a "flip-flopper" that any charge will stick. But I think something else is going on. McCain has always given the impression of reserving his true scorn for his enemies within his own party. I have a hard time imagining McCain making this kind of dishonest accusation against a Democrat—it would be uncivil and dishonorable. But making it against a fellow Republican running to his right? No problem. On top of this, there's the personal animosity McCain feels toward Romney. Indeed, in one of those debates in New Hampshire, McCain spoke warmly of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama at the same time he was giving off waves of hatred toward Romney.

How will this play? If there's one thing we know about late-breaking events in this primary season, it's that it's impossible to know how they'll play. But I wouldn't be surprised if it back-fires on McCain. The attack succeeded in the sense that it tipped the conversation back toward Iraq, but at a potential cost to McCain. His most important political asset is his political character, his reputation for truth-telling and honorable politics. This dishonest low-blow—if it continues to get attention in the closing hours—could chip away at that asset.
Unfortunately, I fear voters are not all that thoughtful about these things. Recent polling indicates that McCain's last-minute gambit is working. I'm afraid what we are seeing is terrible ethics, but good politics.


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