Above is a clip of John McCain speaking to a crowd in New Orleans, addressing the issue of a GOP television commercial set to run in North Carolina next week. The ad includes controversial footage of Barack Obama’s pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, saying “Not God Bless America, God Damn America!” and serves as an attack against the two North Carolina Democratic candidates for governor, who both support Obama. Obviously, it serves the dual purpose of also wounding Obama himself as he tries to campaign there against Hillary Clinton. McCain has said before that he doesn’t think it’s fair to try to tar Obama with the words of his pastor. We assumed that eventually, if McCain faced the Illinois senator in the general election, Republicans would hone in on this obvious weakness, and we wondered how McCain would handle it. We just didn’t expect it to happen so soon, and already McCain is having to walk a narrow line. “All I can do is publicly state that that is not in keeping with the tradition of the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, and Ronald Reagan,” he says in the above clip. “And I will bring every pressure to bear that I can to stop it.”
So, wait, is “every pressure” that he can use limited to “publicly stating” that it’s out of line? Because that doesn’t seem like much pressure at all. (To be fair, he did also write a letter.) As Greg Sargent points out, Democrats are pushing McCain hard on this to quash the video so that they can set a precedent early. If McCain can’t stop a video like this from airing (and so far, according to North Carolina GOP officials, he can’t), he isn’t that effective as a leader of the Republican flock. Earlier today a McCain staffer told Time that the ad would no longer run, but according to local officials, it’s still scheduled. Does that make him look weak? Maybe. But the upside of this whole thing for McCain is that it gives him repeated opportunities to talk about how much he wants to run a good, no-smear campaign, and that he’s above that kind of politics. In the context of other, more underhanded GOPers, he’s just a nice guy, see?