A Civil War In The McCain Campaign

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The Politico reports today that John McCain is at odds with advisers and others inside his campaign who want to make Jeremiah Wright an issue in the final weeks of the campaign:

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and several top campaign officials see a sharp attack on Wright as the best — and perhaps last — chance to rattle Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill. ) and force voters to rethink their support of him. But McCain continues to overrule them, fearing a Wright attack would smack of desperation and racism, the officials said.

With McCain unlikely to budge, GOP officials are hoping groups outside of the campaign will finance an ad attack on Obama-Wright ties. It is unclear if any conservative group has the cash to bankroll a serious effort, however.

“Wright is off the table,” said one top campaign official. “It’s all McCain. He won’t go there. His advisers would have gone there.”

The aides argue that the 20 years that Obama spent in the fiery Wright’s pastoral care — and his later assertion that he knew nothing of his former minister’s more extreme statements — provide an opening to challenge Obama’s judgment and honesty in a relevant and politically resonant way.


But McCain will not allow it, according to campaign sources.

“There’s a slippery slope in politics on the racial divide, and Sen. McCain made it very clear early on that he did not want to get into that area,” a top Republican official said. “I don’t want to be known as a racist, and McCain doesn’t want to be known as a racist candidate.”

This all started back in April when the North Carolina Republican Party ran television ads associating Obama, and two Democratic candidates for Congress, with Wright. McCain denounced the ads and asked the NC GOP to pull the ads:

I have been committed to running a respectful campaign based upon an honest debate about the great issues confronting America today. I expect all state parties to do so as well. The television advertisement you are planning to air degrades our civics and distracts us from the very real differences we have with the Democrats. In the strongest terms, I implore you to not run this advertisement.

This ad does not live up to the very high standards we should hold ourselves to in this campaign. We need to run a campaign that is worthy of the people we seek to serve. There is no doubt that we will draw sharp contrasts with the Democrats on fundamental issues critical to the future course of our country. But we need not engage in political tactics that only seek to divide the American people.

Now, one can argue about whether McCain has lived up to his promise to run a “respectful campaign based upon an honest debate about the great issues confronting America,” but his denunciation of the ad, and public commitment to not play the Jeremiah Wright card are on the public record, and have been honored by him and his campaign.

When you think about it, it’s rather extraordinary that Palin and some McCain advisers think that, at this late date with only 21 days left until Election Day, they can go back on this promise and bring the Jeremiah Wright story back to the center stage it occupied in early March as the Democratic race was heading into Ohio, Texas, and Pennsylvania.

Ann Althouse is right when she points out that it is simply too late for McCain to go back on the promise he made six months ago without it hurting him in the end:

Whether McCain made the right call initially could be questioned, but to go back to this issue now would open McCain to the most vicious attacks: He cared about being racially sensitive when he thought the appearance of lofty principle would win him votes, but now that he fears it hasn’t won him enough votes, he’s ready to try something else. So principle was never principle, just principle as a pose, useful to the extent that it was useful. What else in McCain’s much-touted “honor” profile is there only because he thinks it works?

Playing the Wright card now, after six months of saying no, would be seen, correctly, as a sign of desperation on McCain’s part and would do little more than tarnish his already damaged reputation.

Cross-posted at Below The Beltway