Thursday, January 31, 2008

Imperfect Justice? Defending McCain's Attacks

Steve Kornacki argues that Mitt Romney was on firm ground to claim he's been maliciously attacked by the McCain campaign:

But for all of Romney’s griping, there is a certain justice in his campaign being sullied by such a disingenuous gambit. Romney, after all, has built his entire campaign on disingenuousness, wrapping himself in a language and ideology that he once told Massachusetts voters repulsed him.

More than that, he has shown remarkably little restraint in taking his newfound, base-friendly views and spending millions of dollars to advertise them. His chief target, for nearly a year now, has been McCain.

It was Romney who just two years ago matter-of-factly told the Massachusetts press that McCain’s views on immigration were “reasonable” and that the Arizonan’s call for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented workers was “not amnesty.” Then he discovered that conservative activists were livid with McCain—the same activists whose support Romney badly wanted for his presidential bid. So he reversed himself, began spouting nativist rhetoric, and slammed McCain—in debates, speeches, interviews and television and radio ads—for supporting “amnesty.”

Meanwhile, it was McCain who stood by his position, at enormous political peril, urging a “humane” solution to the immigration morass and acknowledging that illegal immigrants “are God’s children” too. Right or wrong, McCain handled the issue honorably.

That’s just one example of the shameless opportunism that has defined Romney’s effort. In Massachusetts he brought audiences to tears with the story of a “close family member” who died from a back alley abortion, and how the experience had convinced him that abortion should be a matter of deeply personal choice, and not any business of the government’s. “You will not see me waver on that,” he declared.

But then he decided to run for President and declared himself adamantly pro-life, claiming that he had only been “effectively pro-choice” back in Massachusetts (whatever that means). McCain, meanwhile, has opposed legal abortion throughout his entire public career. Again, right or wrong, he has been consistent.

Gay rights, tax cuts, gun control: Over and over in this campaign, Romney’s convenient changes of heart—whether in his actual policy positions or just in the way he talks about issues—have been well-documented. On literally every subject in which he was vulnerable to criticism from conservatives, Romney shifted his attitudes before entering the campaign, meaning he has never been in position—as McCain has often been—to have to defend an unpopular view.

And he authored a brand new chapter last night, proclaiming that Ronald Reagan would “absolutely” endorse him if the former President were still alive. Of course, when Reagan actually was alive, Romney was running around Massachusetts assuring voters that “I was an independent during the time of Reagan-Bush. I’m not trying to return to Reagan-Bush.”

Which brings us to McCain’s attack over the Iraq war. It marked the first time in the campaign that one of Romney’s rivals decided to give him a taste of his own medicine.

McCain, in last night’s debate, all but admitted that payback was part of his motive.

“Your negative ads, my friend, have set the tone in this campaign,” he told Romney.

In a perfect world, McCain would have taken the high road throughout the entire campaign while Romney slowly collapsed under the weight of his own phoniness.

But the world is hardly perfect, and McCain's unfair attack is one of the reasons he is likely to outlast Romney in this nominating contest. Which is itself a kind of imperfect justice.

Well, politics ain't beanbag, so to argue that McCain's pulled off some "dirty tricks" seems to miss a key essence of politics: the raw demands of winning.

Romney backers were crying foul last week when McCain starting running the Romney "withdrawal" ad.

Folks can quibble with the editing, but the truth is Romney appeared to back the movement toward timetables. Sure, his comments were more complicated, but politics is all about sound bites, and those with political aspirations need to speak carefully (Romney also endorsed a path to legalization for undocumented aliens in an interview with Tim Russert last December).

I laid out Romney's questionable record in an earlier, beefy post, "John McCain and the Irrational Right."

As I said there, I admire Romney, although he's not my first pick for the nomination.

In any case, Mark Levin's written a final, desperate first-person appeal to base conservatives pleading for a last stand against McCain, or else....the apocalypse! AAhhhhhh!!!

See Memeorandum for more, especially Captain Ed; and don't forget the good stuff on McCain Derangement Syndrome, here and here.

Photo Credit: New York Observer