- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 14, 2000

For at least the next several decades, political scientists and their students will be studying John McCain's ill-fated campaign for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination. With an inside track during the past six months to the thinking of Mike Murphy, an inveterate, indefatigable spinner who served as Mr. McCain's chief political strategist Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post offered history's first take Sunday.

Through Mr. Kurtz, Mr. Murphy paints a picture of a McCain campaign that was constantly reeling from and responding to unfair attacks from the Bush forces. In fact, however, it was Mr. Bush who initially, and unwisely, allowed Mr. McCain to misrepresent intentionally Mr. Bush's fiscal plan for Social Security. After Mr. Bush began to fight back, it was the McCain campaign that made the dumb decision to broadcast an ad directed at South Carolina's Republican primary voters accusing Mr. Bush of being as "untrustworthy" as President Clinton. Mr. Murphy inexplicably followed up this ad with another that accused Mr. Bush of "twisting the truth like Clinton." Both ads backfired, prompting Mr. McCain to forswear negative ads in the future. What his campaign refused to do, however, was to forswear negative tactics, while complaining about being victimized by Mr. Bush.

Most noteworthy, of course, were the 50,000 telephone calls so-called "Catholic Voter Alert" calls made by the McCain campaign in Michigan effectively accusing Mr. Bush of being an anti-Catholic bigot because he visited Bob Jones University. Despite having written the script for the telephone calls himself, Mr. Murphy delayed publication of the damaging story by claiming a need to check out the facts. Meanwhile, in interviews with two networks, Mr. McCain denied his campaign was responsible for the phone calls. The deception and the delay helped Mr. McCain narrowly prevail in the Michigan primary.

While his chief strategist was bludgeoning Mr. Bush as an anti-Catholic bigot, Mr. McCain was whining because Pat Robertson of the Christian Coalition had independently made telephone calls to Michigan evangelicals. Objecting to former New Hampshire Sen. Warren Rudman's 1996 characterization of members of the religious right as "anti-abortion zealots, would-be censors, homophobes, bigots and latter-day Elmer Gantrys," Mr. Robertson called Mr. Rudman, who serves as Mr. McCain's national campaign chairman, a "vicious bigot." Mr. Rudman had recently called his anti-abortion critics "imbeciles," a provocative epithet directed at people who deplore the fact that the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe vs. Wade abortion decision has resulted in nearly 40 million abortions.

In a vitriolic speech edited by Mr. Murphy and delivered near the Virginia headquarters of Mr. Robertson, Mr. McCain called Mr. Robertson and Jerry Falwell "agents of intolerance." Said Mr. McCain, "They distort my pro-life positions and smear the reputations of my supporters. Why? Because I don't pander to them, because I don't ascribe to their failed philosophy that money is our message."

Mr. Murphy called the Virginia speech a "home run." In fact, it was a self-inflicted and fatal blow to Mr. McCain's campaign. In the end, all the broadcast media's adulatory coverage could not save Mr. McCain from himself or from the incredibly stupid tactics of his strategists. In state after state on Titanic Tuesday, the Republican Party faithful rejected his candidacy because he had so arrogantly rejected so many of them.

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