John McCain’s false charge that Mitt Romney favored a set timetable for withdrawing from Iraq underscores how disastrous a McCain presidency would be.
Any candidate can make a slight misstatement while talking extemporaneously. Hillary Clinton constantly rewrites her own record and has been caught fabricating, as when she made up the story that on 9/11, her daughter Chelsea was going to jog at Battery Park near the towers, where she heard and saw the catastrophe unfold.
But no candidate in this race has gone so far as to baldly fabricate what another candidate has said, as McCain did over the weekend. That same kind of recklessness is evident in McCain’s explosions of temper, which are meant to intimidate those who do not agree with him or do not support him.
Not naming him at first, McCain said in Fort Myers, Fla., “Now, one of my opponents wanted to set a date for withdrawal that would have meant disaster.”
Talking to reporters minutes later, the Arizona senator was more direct: “'If we surrender and wave a white flag, like Senator Clinton wants to do, and withdraw, as Gov. Romney wanted to do, then there will be chaos, genocide, and the cost of American blood and treasure would be dramatically higher.”
Asked about the comment, Romney said, “That’s dishonest, to say that I have a specific date. That’s simply wrong,” he said. “That is not the case. We’ve never said that.”
Romney asked for an apology. Having moved on to Sun City, Fla., McCain said: “The apology is owed to the young men and women serving this nation in uniform.”
A look at what Romney actually said in an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America on April 3, 2007 makes it clear that Romney said the opposite of what McCain claimed he said.
Robin Roberts said to Romney, “You have also been very vocal in supporting the president and the troop surge. Yet, the American public has lost faith in this war. Do you believe that there should be a timetable in withdrawing the troops?”
“Well, there’s no question but that— the president and Prime Minister al-Maliki have to have a series of timetables and milestones that they speak about,” Romney replied. “But those shouldn’t be for public pronouncement. You don’t want the enemy to understand how long they have to wait in the weeds until you’re going to be gone. You want to have a series of things you want to see accomplished in terms of the strength of the Iraqi military and the Iraqi police, and the leadership of the Iraqi government.”
“So, private,” Robins said. “You wouldn’t do it publicly? Because the president has said flat out that he will veto anything the Congress passes about a timetable for troop withdrawals. As president, would you do the same?”
“Well, of course,” Romney said. “Can you imagine a setting where during the Second World War we said to the Germans, gee, if we haven't reached the Rhine by this date, why, we’ll go home, or if we haven’t gotten this accomplished we’ll pull up and leave? You don’t publish that to your enemy, or they just simply lie in wait until that time. So, of course, you have to work together to create timetables and milestones, but you don’t do that with the opposition.”
With the exception of Sean Hannity on Fox News, no news outlet fully quoted what Romney actually said on GMA. That’s no surprise. As the New York Times’ recent endorsement of McCain suggests, the liberal media love him. As a former McCain aide told me, that’s because the senator gives reporters total access to him and because he is as liberal as a Democrat on many issues.
On almost “every turn on domestic policy, John McCain was not only against us, but leading the charge on the other side,” former Sen. Rick Santorum, the Pennsylvania Republican, has said.
In a stunning example of the media’s slant, the AP’s Ron Fournier wrote after Romney won in Michigan, “The former Massachusetts governor pandered to voters, distorted his opponents’ record, and continued to show why he’s the most malleable—and least credible—major presidential candidate,” Fournier wrote. “And it worked.”
As for McCain, “The man who spoke hard truths to Michigan lost,” Fournier said. “Of all the reasons John McCain deserved a better result Tuesday night, his gamble on the economy stands out”
Not to be outdone, the New York Times ran a story on Jan. 24 headlined, “Romney Leads in Ill Will Among GOP Candidates.” The story said, “In stark contrast to Mr. Romney, Mr. McCain seems to be universally liked and respected by the other Republican contenders, even if they disagree with him.”
The evidence to support that claim came entirely from quotes from present or former McCain aides.
While McCain clearly has formidable supporters, and his stand on the Iraq war was admirable, those who have dealt with him over the years have been appalled by his outbursts of temper, a character trait the media have largely ignored.
In endorsing Romney, Republican Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, who has known McCain for more than three decades, said his choice was prompted partly by his fear of how McCain might behave in the Oval Office.
“The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine,” Cochran said about McCain. “He is erratic. He is hotheaded. He loses his temper, and he worries me.”
“He [McCain] would disagree about something and then explode,” said former Sen. Bob Smith, a fellow Republican who served with McCain on various committees. “[There were] incidents of irrational behavior. We’ve all had incidents where we have gotten angry, but I’ve never seen anyone act like that.”
Defending his bill to give amnesty to illegal aliens, McCain unleashed a tirade on Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who had voiced concerns about the number of judicial appeals illegal immigrants could file under the proposed legislation.
“F*** you!” McCain said to his fellow senator. “I know more about this than anybody else in the room!” McCain shouted.
“People who disagree with him get the f*** you,” said former Rep. John LeBoutillier, a New York Republican who had an encounter with McCain when he was on a POW task force in the House. “I think he is mentally unstable and not fit to be president.”
Andrew H. “Andy” Card Jr., President Bush’s former chief of staff, told me he has observed McCain’s outbursts.
“Sometimes he was pretty angry, but I felt as if he was putting on a show,” Card said. “I don’t know if it was an emotional eruption or it was for effect," Card said.
Democrat Paul Johnson, the former mayor of Phoenix, saw McCain’s temper up close. “His volatility borders in the area of being unstable,” Johnson has said. “Before I let this guy put his finger on the button, I would have to give considerable pause.”
When I appeared on Tucker Carlson's MSNBC show to discuss Newsmax’s disclosures about McCain’s temper, Carlson said on the air, “We got a call earlier tonight from McCain’s Senate office suggesting that we not do this story. [They were] annoyed about it.”
That hint at intimidation is another reason why major media outlets may think twice about revealing what they know of McCain’s temper, which is widely whispered about in Washington. Yet along with track record, such clues to character are a compass to how a president will conduct his presidency.
Over and over, voters have ignored warning signs of poor character and have overlooked track records, only to regret it once a president enters the White House and becomes corrupted by the power of the office.
When he was a candidate for vice president, Richard Nixon became embroiled in an ethics issue when the New York Post revealed he had secretly accepted $18,000 from private contributors to defray his expenses. It should have come as no surprise that he would end up being driven from office by the scandal known as Watergate.
If we elect a candidate with McCain’s monumental character flaws, we can expect to suffer the consequences.
Ronald Kessler is chief Washington correspondent of Newsmax.com. View his previous reports and get his dispatches sent to you free via e-mail. Go here now.
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