It may well be that both McCain’s political acumen and his basic policy judgment have gone way downhill from his glory days — when he wanted Sarah Palin to be next in line for the presidency.
John McCain is trying out a new Republican response to the anti-LGBT terrorist attack last weekend, which left 49 patrons dead at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida: President Obama is the one who is really responsible for it, by pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq.
— Frank Thorp V (@frankthorp) June 16, 2016
McCain did not mention, of course, that U.S. troops were withdrawn under a Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by President George W. Bush with the Iraqi government, before Obama ever even took office. (And besides that, ISIS probably could not have existed in Iraq if not for U.S. invasion in 2003, and the completely botched aftermath by the Bush administration.)
The remarks drew wide and immediate comparisons to GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump’s conspiratorial accusations that the president of the United States was supposedly on the side of the terrorists.
High-profile Democrats hit back at McCain. Among them was Dan Pfeiffer, former Senior Advisor to President Obama:
And John McCain’s 15 year streak of being wrong on every foreign policy issue continues https://t.co/JqgiwdRu8A
— Dan Pfeiffer (@danpfeiffer) June 16, 2016
There was also Brad Woodhouse, former DNC communications director and now president of Correct The Record, with a prediction of McCain’s defeat for his Senate seat this November:
John McCain is a pathetically desperate politician who will be looking for a new job after November – and it won’t be as a senior statesman
— Brad Woodhouse (@woodhouseb) June 16, 2016
Plus former chief Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau:
From Palin to this, what a sad, dark way to end an otherwise dignified and heroic career. https://t.co/tILgkFBYrw
— Jon Favreau (@jonfavs) June 16, 2016
In a statement, Harry Reid’s deputy chief of staff Adam Jentleson drew a connection between McCain’s remarks and other recent comments from Senate Republicans, such as Sen. David Perdue’s (R-GA) public quoting of a Bible passage that Obama’s “days be few” — actually a death curse for a hated political leader, in its full context — and the refusal by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to condemn Donald Trump’s racist attacks on minority groups.
Jentleson concluded, “there is no daylight between Senate Republicans and Donald Trump.”
But what’s more, even people often identified with establishment Washington opinion have been aghast, such as columnist Ron Fournier — and he, too, was connecting this to McCain’s possible defeat for re-election this year:
Channeling @realDonaldTrump? Cmon.
— Ron Fournier (@ron_fournier) June 16, 2016
Later in the afternoon, McCain issued a new statement, seeking to reassure everyone (kind of) that he wasn’t calling Obama a terrorist — but that it’s still all Obama’s fault, anyway.
“I misspoke. I did not mean to imply that the President was personally responsible. I was referring to President Obama’s national security decisions, not the President himself. As I have said, President Obama’s decision to completely withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq in 2011 led to the rise of ISIL. I and others have long warned that the failure of the President’s policy to deny ISIL safe haven would allow the terrorist organization to inspire, plan, direct or conduct attacks on the United States and Europe as they have done in Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino and now Orlando.”
And speaking to reporters, McCain insisted he was “not backtracking on anything” — blaming President Obama’s “actions” for being responsible for the rise of ISIS, leading up to the attack in Orlando.
— Hallie Jackson (@HallieJackson) June 16, 2016
But McCain did have at least one person praising him for all of this: Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who had proudly tweeted out the headline of McCain’s original comment:
John McCain: Obama is ‘directly responsible’ for Orlando attack – The Washington Post https://t.co/hjh5ry2r3B
— Corey Lewandowski (@CLewandowski_) June 16, 2016
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)