What’s happened to McCain as he runs for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination is a “tragedy,” E.J. Dionne wrote in the Washington Post. Newsweek headlined that a “McCain Meltdown” had occurred. In the New York Times, Frank Rich was beside himself. On CBS’s 60 Minutes, Scott Pelley got McCain to zing Bush and his administration but couldn’t get him to agree that the public’s disapproval of the war in Iraq should prevail today. “I think you have to stick with what you believe in,” McCain said.
That attitude used to thrill the press. Reporters and commentators gushed about McCain the political maverick and straight talker who was willing to take on his own party and president. McCain, in truth, has continued to do this, saying in the 60 Minutes interview that Bush should talk to Syria and Iran and shut down the Guantanamo prison. He’s persisted as well in criticizing Bush’s management of the war.
But all of that is no longer enough to satisfy the press. Why? Because McCain hasn’t bought into the verdict, rampant in the media, that the war in Iraq is lost and victory cannot be salvaged. Instead, he backs the president’s new strategy of counterinsurgency in Baghdad, bolstered by 21,500 additional troops, and insists that progress is already being made.
As I argued on March 19th, McCain has long had a bad case of wanting to be loved by the media (i.e. Mulroney Disease). This is dangerous, I wrote, because “the media are often poor proxies for the public, and their tastes in politicians and policies are as unreliable as Britney Spears’ lingerie drawer.”
McCain is also being ridiculed in some quarters for his assertion that he was able to walk safely through parts of Baghdad on a recent visit, because he was accompanied by a large armed contingent. But this April 4th ABC report supports his view.
UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal weighs in today with its editorial, "McCain's finest hour:"
Not surprisingly, all this has the media in a state of apoplexy, with his former liberal pals shaking their heads in phony regret that his supposed blunder in Baghdad--observing last week that a market is safer than it was only a few months ago--is going to sink his candidacy. Our view is that Mr. McCain's difficulty so far in attracting conservative voters has nothing to do with Iraq, and everything to do with the positions that once made him the media darling. On the contrary, his support for the war and his appreciation of the stakes is one thing that keeps his candidacy alive, at least within the Republican Party.