McCain's century-long problem

Republicans are hyperventilating over talk that McCain is willing to maintain a U.S. troop presence in Iraq for 100 years.

By Steve Benen

Published April 9, 2008 1:16PM (EDT)

One gets the distinct impression that these guys are not familiar with the phrase "Never let 'em see you sweat."

Not only are Republicans concerned about John McCain having said -- more than once -- that he's willing to maintain a U.S. troop presence in Iraq for 100 years, they're apparently in a near panic about it. Josh Marshall notes the latest in a series of press releases from the National Republican Congressional Committee:

Despite Being Widely Discredited, Democrats Level False "100 Years" Accusation at Senator John McCain in Desperate Election Year Ploy

NRCC chairman Tom Cole argued in his statement that Democrats are "worried" and "desperate." Given the intensity of the GOP response to this flap, the words seem better suited to describe Republicans.

There's no great mystery here. McCain's (repeated) willingness to maintain a century-long presence in Iraq has become the single biggest mess for his campaign that Republicans can't explain away.

First, it's politically tone-deaf. Second, it's an awful policy prescription. And third, McCain has shamelessly flip-flopped, more than once, on whether he actually thinks his own idea is any good.

Nevertheless, what we're seeing unfold is a coordinated, carefully orchestrated campaign to get the political world to stop using the words "McCain," "Iraq" and "100 years" in the same sentence. No one can do push-back as well as the Republican machine, and these guys are intent on making it impossible to hit McCain where it hurts.

Ironically, by hyperventilating, McCain and his allies are telegraphing which attack hurts the most.

Republicans insist that McCain's words have been "distorted." In some instances, that may be true. But what they probably fear most is observers taking McCain's comments at face value. They don't need embellishment -- they're devastating all on their own.

Steve Benen

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