early and often

Steve Schmidt Goes to War With the McCain Family

Schmidt in campaign mode. Photo: Orjan F. Ellingvag/Corbis via Getty Images

Steve Schmidt, the onetime John McCain campaign strategist who has turned into a fierce critic of the Republican Party and hero to a certain kind of resistance liberal, published a blog post on Sunday night accusing McCain of concealing the truth about an affair he was having — and asserting that he was too afraid of Sarah Palin to halt the GOP’s slide into lunacy. The post comes on the heels of attacks Schmidt leveled at Meghan McCain over the weekend, in which he accused the late senator’s daughter of being a “bully, entitled, unaccomplished, spoiled and mean,” among many other things.

In Sunday’s post, Schmidt writes that a New York Times story published in 2008, which implied that McCain had an affair with a female lobbyist, was true. At the time, McCain was running for president against Barack Obama. The senator had been married to Cindy McCain since 1980, and they would remain together through his death in 2018.

The 2008 McCain campaign vigorously pushed back against the story. And the lobbyist in question, Vicki Iseman, later sued the Times, which attached a “note to readers” stating that it “did not intend to conclude” that McCain and Iseman had an affair.

Schmidt claims that the Arizona senator, whom he has long venerated, lied to him and to the American public about the affair, and that the relationship’s existence was the reason McCain looked the other way while his campaign manager, Rick Davis, worked to advance Russian interests with lobbying partner Paul Manafort.

(Note to young readers: In the pre-2016 Republican Party, these sorts of transgressions were still generally frowned upon.)

“The burden of carrying this lie — while being attacked for 14 consecutive years by the bully Meghan McCain — has finally reached its end for me,” Schmidt writes.

Schmidt, who joined McCain’s ’08 campaign on a volunteer basis as it was foundering, also writes that McCain became so afraid of upsetting the Republican base that he was hesitant to criticize Sarah Palin — whom Schmidt suggested as a running mate before realizing she was wildly unqualified. “The bravest man that I had ever met turned out to be terrified of the creature that he had created,” Schmidt writes.

(His post is marked by the melodramatic and grandiose style familiar to perusers of his Twitter feed over the years, thick with weighty pronouncements about truth and honor. Another sample passage: “You see, when I was 36 years old, I did not understand the difference between integrity and loyalty. Before I met John McCain, I would have answered that they were indistinguishable from one another. John McCain taught me a hard lesson about the differences between the two.”)

Schmidt has inveighed against Donald Trump in high-profile fashion for years, and was so disturbed by the Republican Party’s descent into a personality cult that he renounced the GOP altogether in 2018. But though he and McCain were estranged for many years, he has consistently expressed admiration for his former boss.

This post has been updated.

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Steve Schmidt Goes to War With the McCain Family