McCain advisor sees political advantage in terror attack

John McCain is distancing himself from comments made by one of his senior advisors, who said a terror attack would help McCain's prospects for victory.

Published June 23, 2008 10:07PM (EDT)

In a recent interview with Fortune magazine, Charlie Black, a senior advisor to John McCain, said something he shouldn't have. Asked about the political impact of a hypothetical terror attack on U.S. soil between now and the general election, Black told the magazine's David Whitford that an attack would be a boon to McCain's political fortunes. "Certainly it would be a big advantage to him," Black said. Black also said the assassination of Benazir Bhutto had helped McCain politically.

The publication of Black's comments led to swift response from across the spectrum. Black himself has apologized; he called what he said "inappropriate." McCain moved to distance himself from his advisor, saying, "I cannot imagine why he would say it. It's not true ... If he said that, and I do not know the context, I strenuously disagree."

And the Obama campaign hit Black and McCain; in a statement, Obama spokesman Bill Burton said, "The fact that John McCain's top advisor says that a terrorist attack on American soil would be a 'big advantage' for their political campaign is a complete disgrace, and is exactly the kind of politics that needs to change. Barack Obama will turn the page on these failed policies and this cynical and divisive brand of politics."

Talking Points Memo's Greg Sargent notes (correctly, I think):

The funny thing about this is that while this is obviously a hideously tasteless gaffe for McCain's top adviser to make, the notion that a terror attack would help Republicans is something that's seen as perfectly routine when pundits argue it.

This odious argument somehow isn't seen as crude or distasteful when "disinterested" observers say it, which is bizarre, even putting aside the fact that it's probably outright wrong, given the multiple polls finding that the GOP's advantage on national security has long since evaporated.

And a former colleague, Time's Michael Scherer, argues (again correctly, I think) against taking any chatter about this too seriously:

We can look forward to days of cable news chatter over the issue, and meta-chatter about who benefits from the chatter. Is it a dark Atwaterian/Rovian ploy or another embarrassing McCain campaign stumble? Lots of ugly charges and counter-charges, I'm sure. Try to keep this in mind: Whatever the gasbags tell you, neither Democrats nor Republicans, Obama nor McCain want the terrorists to win. It's one of the few things they definitely have in common.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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2008 Elections John Mccain R-ariz.