Ted Stevens and an Opportunity for McCain

Powerful Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska has been indicted for concealing gifts and services and making false statements. Even though he claimed to be surprised by this, he had been under investigation for many months. Sen. Stevens is well known for the funding he is able to secure for his state, including the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere."

On its face, this latest indictment couldn't have come at a worse time for Republicans who are still reeling from the 2006 midterm elections in which they were heavily punished for their ethical transgressions. Of course, Democrats were not without their ethical woes, but they paled in scope and number to Republicans, as is evidenced by Bob Ney, Duke Cunningham, Mark Foley, and Larry Craig. The Stevens indictment simply reminds voters of Republican corruption and makes Barack Obama's message of "change" and "new politics" a bit more resonant.

Veteran Democratic Senator Daniel Inouye defended Stevens and believed he was innocent. This is not surprising, seeing that both Inouye and Stevens are personal friends. To people outside of Washington, this simply comes across as sleazy Washington politicians protecting their own. This would be another advantage for Obama in that even though he is also a senator, he is not really seen as "Washington." This is a result of his short resume of federal service and Republican reminders that he was just a state senator in Springfield, Illinois, a few years ago.

Obama and congressional Democrats can easily use this indictment for fundraising and another example of why it's important to help elect more Democrats to stamp out the "culture of corruption" they ran against in 2006. And for disaffected voters, they may be more inclined to respond favorably to Obama's "I'm not part of them" image.

However, this news also presents a unique opportunity for John McCain. McCain now has a golden opportunity to burnish his maverick image and fiscal conservative credentials. McCain should be on the campaign trail everyday criticizing Stevens for his waste and lack of ethics. That would instantly grab media headlines because it would show that McCain is standing up to his own unpopular party. That would make McCain look more like an outsider, a reformer, a leader, and yes, an "agent of change."

Outrage from Barack Obama and Democrats is predictable. It's dog bites man. Democrats criticize Republicans all the time. The line between sincere outrage and mere partisan reflexes is blurry enough to blunt the potency of their criticisms.

Outrage from the Republican presidential nominee, however, would be a lot rarer. It's man bites dog. Republicans don't publicly criticize Republicans unless their names are Ron Paul or Tom Coburn.

In short, Ted Stevens is yet one more headache for Republicans, but a political gift for John McCain. For a candidate who is looking to get more out of the media and temporarily change the narrative from Iraq and the economy, this is a perfect opportunity for him should he be courageous enough to take it.

8 comment(s):

DB said...

I totally agree on your point that McCain can capitalize on this scandal, but while it could help him, would it hurt his colleagues who are running for reelection in November? I think McCain would benefit greatly but the attention on another Republican scandal might further taint the brand. They are already expected to lose some seats without dealing with more scandal. I am all about calling out dishonored representatives, but looking at it from an election standpoint (on terms of strategy), I am not so sure what the best course would be. He should be thrown out, but should the "innocent" Republicans pay the price for his indiscretions?

Thomas said...

DB, I think many Republicans were disgusted by the "bridge to nowhere." Many were on the record already as being against pork barrel projects.

Black Political Analysis said...

Many in the GOP are wrestling with this choice, "Congress or McCain?" Winning either looks increasingly difficult, so we're seeing many Republicans decide to support one or the other. The options: Win the presidency and stop a Democratic Congress or lessen the losses in Congress and slow down the Obama train. The Stevens imbroglio makes the decision harder.

DB said...

Thomas, that is a good point for them to accept McCain making an example of him, but would that stick just to him?

Anthony Palmer said...

Dr. King/DB,

You are right in that the GOP is going to have to choose between having a Republican president or minimize Republican congressional losses. There aren't enough resources available to do both, and McCain's chances of victory rely heavily on distancing himself from the tarnished GOP brand and vice versa.

I think McCain would have to continue to make the election a referendum on Obama while Republicans try as hard as they can to make congressional races as local as possible. If this election is nationalized, it will be another bloodbath.



Sen. Coburn of Oklahoma was one of the biggest critics of pork. Sen. Jim DeMint is another big critic of it. But I'm starting to wonder just how big of an issue this is. Voters don't like the idea of pork, but in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't seem to rank that high on the list compared to things like Iraq, taxes, abortion rights, the Supreme Court, immigration, etc. So maybe railing against pork is overrated?



I don't know if McCain criticizing Stevens is good politics, but I do know that's a good way to get some positive media attention.

Thomas said...

You are right, Anthony. I don't think it is a big leap to say that all Republicans aren't in bed with Stevens though.

Khaki Elephant said...

Republicans don't publicly criticize Republicans unless their names are Ron Paul or Tom Coburn.

I disagree. Unlike the Democrats during the Clinton impeachment hearings, prominant Republicans told Nixon they would not support him. Trent Lott also felt the pressure Republican separation. And we don't even need to discuss how Republican leaders treated Larry Craig.

S.W. Anderson said...

khaki elephant makes a valid point about Republicans shunning some of their own worst offenders, but errs in comparing the Nixon and Clinton situations.

Nixon was caught dead to rights, and it was clear he was about to be impeached and would be convicted when that happened. Republicans went to the White House urging Nixon to give it up in large part to cut their (massive) losses in the Watergate crime and cover-up. Nixon's wrongdoing involved violation of statutory law, the Constitution and his oath, and involved serious abuse of power.

Clinton's shabby, inexcusable behavior with Monica Lewinsky represented a personal failing and lying about sexual misbehavior. It was wrong, but didn't involve abuse of power. Any professional prosecutor worth his/her weight in subpoenas would've declined to press the case against Clinton. Congressional Republicans who did -- with unbelievable hypocrisy on Henry Hyde's part -- go forward with the case against Clinton did so out of personal animus and for political gain.

Not surprisingly, many Democrats who felt extremely angry at and betrayed by Bill Clinton rallied around him in reaction to the Republicans' overreaching. So did many not particularly partisan citizens.

Recollection of how the Clinton impeachment backfired on Republicans undoubtedly plays a big part in Nancy Pelosi's reluctance to try and see to it George W. Bush and Dick Cheney face consequences they so richly deserves right now.

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