John McCain’s finest moment will always be the night he lost the presidency and gave an inspired concession speech. And it’s been downhill for him ever since.
Tuesday the senator released a statement acknowledging that the intelligence community was responsible for removing references to al Qaeda in the talking points U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice gave days after the tragedy in Benghazi on September 11. McCain reports that he was “surprised and frustrated” by this revelation, though it’s been known for weeks and was confirmed when former CIA Director David Petraeus confirmed that he approved the talking points. McCain concluded his statement insisting that he still has questions about Benghazi, without explicitly naming them.
By trying to manufacture a scandal by focusing on the minutiae of talking points, McCain has diminished his credibility as an authority on foreign policy—though it likely won’t deprive him of invitations to appear on the Sunday morning news shows that seem to have an almost weekly seat saved for him.
During the 2012 campaign, McCain’s fixation on the president and Ambassador Rice’s reaction to the tragedy seemed a transparent attempt to slime a president who had wrested the issue of national security away from the Republican Party. The Arizona senator implied that linking the attack to protests connected to a YouTube video that demeaned the prophet Muhammad was a cover-up on the scale of Watergate. This was nonsense that only appealed to the same people who thought the president’s birth certificate was created in Photoshop.
After the campaign, McCain doubled down on the attacks by calling Ambassador Rice “not qualified” for the job of Secretary of State, though she hadn’t yet been nominated. President Obama was offended by the criticism and invited senators McCain and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) to “come after” him, not Ambassador Rice.
What McCain never offered during the campaign was a rationale of what the administration was trying to cover up by linking the attacks to the YouTube videos. Last Sunday, he said that the al Qaeda connection got in the way of Obama’s “I got bin Laden, al Qaeda’s on the run” narrative.
George H.W. Bush’s former UN Ambassador Thomas Pickering is leading an investigation into what happened in Benghazi, a good deal of which will be classified, as much of the CIA’s activities there were covert.
Regardless of the outcome of that investigation, McCain likely won’t apologize to Ms. Rice or the president for inventing his own narrative about their motivations. But now would be the perfect time for the former GOP presidential nominee to again concede graciously, and move on — perhaps even out of the Senate.
Another former GOP presidential nominee, Senator Bob Dole (R-KS), resigned his Senate seat when he made his bid for the White House. Dole also spent much of the last decade working with former Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern to get poor children across the globe free school lunches.
Maybe Dole could convince Senator McCain that he could do a lot more good outside of Washington D.C.