I have a bone to pick with Brian Beutler. He wrote, Trump Is Far from the Only Republican to Let Supporters Spout Crazy. It’s in reference to a Trump event last Thursday where an audience member said, “We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims.” He went on to say that the president was one and that there were “training camps” where “they” want to kill us. Trump didn’t counter him, and instead talked in general terms. Beutler is right that this is a general problem with politics — most especially with Republicans.
The problem I had was that he contrasted it with McCain’s famous moment in the 2008 campaign when he too was confronted with a crazy person saying that then Senator Obama was an Arab. McCain countered her, “No, ma’am. He’s a decent family man, citizen that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues and that’s what this campaign’s all about.” Beutler noted, “The only reason anyone remembers the altercation is because we expect Republican politicians to behave the way Trump did.” That’s true. But if the same interaction had taken place on 17 September 2007, McCain would not have answered that way.
That townhall was from 10 October 2008 — less than one month before the election. By that time, it was clear that McCain was going to lose the election. The issue at that point was not winning — it was saving his reputation. He ran a terrible campaign. He was a demagogue. He brought us Sarah Palin. I know that McCain was looking for just such an opportunity. And I’ve long figured that it was largely orchestrated by the campaign. People don’t just happen to find themselves in front of the mic at that point in the general election.
Of course, Beutler is not alone in this. CNN is using the same example. So is ABC News. Even CBC is reporting it that way, Donald Trump, Unlike McCain, Doesn’t Reject Statement From Obama Birther. And I suppose, as a way to blast Trump, this is a good thing. But the two things are totally different. Trump is horrible. He just isn’t much different from John McCain.
What really bugs me is that pretty much every reporter who is willing to lay praise on McCain for that successful bit of political theater is also deeply cynical about politics in a general sense. And so you have to wonder: what is that constant cynicism from the media good for? It clearly doesn’t stop them from totally falling for the most cynical political theater of the 2008 presidential campaign. All that cynicism does is poison the nation into its own dangerous casual cynicism.
But Beutler did make a comparison that is particularly good. When Trump was talking nonsense about vaccines at the Republican debate, neither of the medical doctors on stage were willing to correct him. In fact, the meek and mild PolitiFact rated Carson’s apologia for Trump pants on fire. But this is a point that no one made at CNN or ABC News or even CBC. So as usual, Brian Beutler is an insightful commentator, even if he is wrong to give John McCain any credit for his cynical ploy.