A few weeks ago a friend with D.C. connections happened to tell me Senator John McCain had a “zipper problem” that’s well-known in Washington circles. I was pretty unimpressed: it seems to me that if politics could somehow be stripped of anyone whose sex life wasn’t an open book, our councils and legislatures would become pretty empty places. And fairly dull, I imagine, too.
Then last night I saw on the Internet the story everyone’s talking about: a “possibly inappropriate” relationship between John McCain and a female lobbyist. And this morning I received an email from RNC Chair Mike Duncan about the New York Times’ McCain story. “The New York Times has proven once again,” Duncan writes, “that the liberal mainstream media will do whatever it takes to put Senator Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama in the White House.” He goes on to exhort me to give money to the RNC to help them fight (cue scary baritone voice here) the liberal media’s anti-Republican agenda.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Ã‚Â
I’m not sure whether the McCain story is supposed to be a tale of corruption or of sex or both, because for the moment the facts don’t interest me much either way. What interests me today is the timing.
1) Contrary to what Faux Gnus may be saying, having this story hit the airwaves right now is of no use to the Democratic Party or its candidates. Even though McCain will almost certainly be the Republican nominee, Clinton and Obama are primarily running against each other at the moment. Stories of inappropriate behavior by McCain would be useful to the eventual Democratic nominee in the summer or fall, but February is much too early to benefit the Democrat. Particularly since it’s not yet clear who our Party’s nominee will be.
2) Once a low-level politico like me, from the deep south of suburban Orange County, gets wind of a story you can be sure it’s thoroughly made the rounds among actual in-the-know politicos on the national level. So the McCain story, or at least the Zippergate element, has been around for a while without reaching the general public’s attention.
So why was the story printed now and who DOES benefit from the timing?
1) The Times has to have gone with the story this week either because they finally had enough evidence, or because they knew a competing news outlet was about to break the story, or because they felt they would appear more biased by holding on to the story than by printing now. Or some combination. (See TNR commentary here.)
2) If McCain didn’t so obviously have the Republican nomination sewn up, any remaining Republican opponent would be a beneficiary. Possibly whomever originally shopped the story to the Times hoped vainly for it to reach the public before Super Tuesday, in time to save the Romney or Huckabee candidacies.
3) The Republican fundraising apparatus stands to win from the timing of the story’s release, and as the email from Mike Duncan demonstrates, they’re taking advantage of the opportunity to flog the usual Liberal Media bogeyman. (Conservatives take note: the New York Times endorsed McCain a month ago.)
4) Ironically, John McCain benefits from getting the story out now. McCain’s camp knew the Times was working on this story and they may have wished to get it into the public domain sooner rather than later in order to take advantage of the voting public’s notoriously short memory. Furthermore, as others have argued, McCain himself may benefit from this apparent attack in that he may garner sympathy from conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh who have felt queasy about his candidacy. Like the RNC, McCain’s camp moved quickly to use the story to raise money.
Except in the unlikely event that this story develops legs of Watergate proportions, we’ll probably never know why it came out precisely when it did. But it’s interesting to speculate.
[Image from Colby Jones, sircolby.com]