McCain's Iowa Interview: More Pointless than Peevish


It's all the buzz this afternoon among Beltway types: video clips of John McCain speaking to the the Des Moines Register editorial board yesterday that objective observers are billing as "a hard-edged McCain that is rarely seen on film"--and that more partisan reviewers are calling "shocking... mean... nasty... rude... [and] arrogant." According to them, it's rated R--for really, really enraged. "Wow!" says one commenter over at the Politico. "Wait till this shi...hits the [mainstream] press!"

Did McCain make a mistake in the DMR interview? Absolutely. Does it have anything to do with his performance? Not in my view.

It's not that McCain doesn't get kind of peeved in the clips. He does. It's just that I don't think he seems surly enough to even marginally impact what moderate, undecided voters think of him. Will die-hard Obamans see evidence here of McCain's "temperament problem"? Sure. But that's what they want to see. Clearly hoping to stoke the "McCain is erratic" storyline, the Obama campaign has already sent reporters four oppo emails referencing the senator's "snide, frustrated... sarcastic diatribe." Liberal bloggers have labeled him a "lying, petulant, immature, condescending jerk" as a result.

But the fact is, only uncommitted voters matter at this point. They know that McCain isn't, as he likes to say, "Miss Congeniality." And if they ever end up watching the Des Moines Register web cast--which is less than likely--they'll probably be surprised to find that the bloodthirsty sociopath their liberal friends were blabbing about actually sounds like a relatively straightforward (if impatient) guy slogging through his ten-millionth interview. McCain's response to a question about whether he's received taxpayer-backed health care, for instance, is supposedly "dripping with sarcasm." "You know, that's an interesting statement, isn't it?" he says.  "I have never been an astronaut, but I think I know the challenges of space. I have never done a lot of things in my life that I think I am familiar with."  McCain's point--that he can support a market-based health-care system instead of Obama's plan to expand government care even though, as a veteran and a senator, he receives government care himself--is perfectly valid, and I doubt that undecideds will dock him points for displaying a bit of pique to make his point.

My problem with McCain's DMR interview wasn't his performance, per se. It's that he was doing it at all. For starters, McCain chances of winning Iowa hover around five percent. He hasn't led Obama in a single poll--not one of 26--released this election cycle, and the Democrat is currently ahead in the Hawkeye State by an average of 9.2 percent. For comparison, McCain has less ground to make up in the solid-blue states of New Jersey (8.6 percent), Maine (7.6 percent) and Oregon (9.0 percent)--none of which he's contesting. What's more, the only point of an ed board interview is to secure a newspaper's endorsement, which, in this case, a) McCain would never get, given that the DMR ed board is deeply liberal and b) wouldn't matter even if he did (see Obama's 9.2-percent lead, above).

The whole visit, in other words, started out as pointless--and has ended up as detrimental. McCain tangos with unsympathetic editors--for no particular reason. The rest of the media--which loves a little drama--picks up the story (complete with video). The Obama campaign gets to reinforce its "McCain is erratic" narrative by adding a new (if exaggerated) plot point to its growing list of valid concerns (Exhibit A: "suspending his campaign"). And voters hear the words "irritable" and "sarcastic" in association with McCain--yet again. What does McCain get in return? Nada.

His alleged "bad temper" isn't to blame here. His bad strategy is.