Friday, February 22, 2008

Is There a McCain Scandal?

Only if there is a lot more coming out than this NYT story. Essentially, the Times piece has three basic parts: a rehash of the Keating 5 scandal, allegations that McCain did favors for a lobbyist, and allegations that some aides were concerned that there might be ‘romantic’ connection between McCain and the lobbyist – 8 years ago.

The Keating 5 business is hardly news. The over-reaction to Keating is still creating problems via McCain-Feingold.

The lobbying issue seems to boil down to the fact that McCain has apparently taken trips on corporate jets, and that he once twisted some arms to get Ms. Iseman’s client’s paperwork pushed to the top of the stack. Not pushed for what the lobbyist wanted, but just to get a decision made on an application that had been under consideration for two years.

Now, when you’ve built your career as “Mr. Squeaky Clean”, and especially in the current environment, accusations of doing anything for a lobbyist can be a problem. Absent some other smoking gun, this just doesn’t seem like much. After all, it’s not like anyone found $90,000 in cash in his freezer.

Still, “Mr. Squeaky Clean” compared to the rest of Congress is a pretty low hurdle.

It’s the accusations of an affair that are really driving the story: “…some of the senator’s advisers had grown so concerned that the relationship had become romantic that they took steps to intervene”. Both McCain and Iseman have denied having an affair, and most of those willing to go on record seem to dispute the Times’ version of events.

Assuming the Time’s core allegation was true - that McCain & Iseman had a ‘romantic’ relationship – and that’s a big assumption - when confronted, McCain dropped it. This implies two interesting things, one is that he has advisers who aren’t afraid to bring up embarrassing personal issues, and the second, that he listened to them.

Somehow, I can’t seem to picture any Clinton aides mentioning to Bill that it’s a bad idea to boink the interns. However, that’s not to endorse the notion that it’s in any way, shape, or form OK to indulge in extramarital hijinks.

If it turns out that the allegations about McCain having a shack up honey, it’s pretty much over. (Not that it isn’t pretty much over already – just look at the advance notices Obama! The Musical! is getting.) McCain’s not running on the Huckabee platform, but he needs to find a base of enthusiastic supporters somewhere, and continuously turning off large portions of the party doesn’t inspire much confidence.

There are obvious pluses for this for McCain: the Times didn’t run this story when it could have actually hurt him in the primaries. If this story isn’t further substantiated, it will be very old news by the time the conventions have died down. It also provides McCain with a wake up call – he’s not going to get the fawning press coverage he used to back when he was the MSM’s ‘maverick’ Republican. Further, he now gets the NYT to unite the conservatives.

If this is the best shot the Times can take, it’s a big plus for McCain. If the Times can’t substantiate these charges, it’s a big minus for the Times.

CNN provides some additional news on the ‘implausibility’ of the whole affair angle. The Boston Globe went with the Washington Post version. The Seattle P-I didn’t bother with either. If you’re Bill Keller, this has got to be dashed embarrassing. It will only get worse if he can’t come up with something like facts, or people willing to speak for the record.

There may well be dirt to be dished on McCain, but this doesn’t appear to be it.