Who Wins If the Terrorists Win?

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It is a morbid sort of hypothetical brain teaser: If there is another terrorist attack before November, who benefits? Republicans or Democrats? McCain or Obama?

Charlie Black, a senior adviser to McCain, actually answered the question, according to the latest issue of Fortune magazine. Here is the quote from the article, which is rather critical of McCain’s handling of economic issues:

On national security McCain wins. We saw how that might play out early in the campaign, when one good scare, one timely reminder of the chaos lurking in the world, probably saved McCain in New Hampshire, a state he had to win to save his candidacy – this according to McCain’s chief strategist, Charlie Black. The assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December was an “unfortunate event,” says Black. “But his knowledge and ability to talk about it reemphasized that this is the guy who’s ready to be Commander-in-Chief. And it helped us.” As would, Black concedes with startling candor after we raise the issue, another terrorist attack on U.S. soil. “Certainly it would be a big advantage to him,” says Black.

Oh boy. Big problems. Today, at a press conference in California, McCain disowned his adviser’s comment. “If he said that — and I do not know the context — I strenuously disagree,” McCain said. “I cannot imagine why he would say it. It’s not true.”

Shortly afterwards, via a pool report, word came that Black himself was backing off the sentiment. To wit:

A senior campaign official said Black did not remember making the comments in Fortune, but did not dispute the comment. The context of Black’s argument in the interview, the official said, was that John McCain is favored on national security issues and that any day that national security leads the news is a good day for McCain. . . . Outside McCain’s Fresno fundraiser, Black read his statement, soon to be released by the campaign, from his handwritten notes. “I deeply regret the comments—they were inappropriate. I recognize that John McCain has devoted his entire adult life to protecting his country and placing its security before every other consideration.”

McCain likes to say he would rather lose an election than lose a war. To this, I guess his campaign is now awkwardly adding that he would rather lose an election than have terrorists succeed in another attack. The sad part is that now we are having this conversation. We can look forward to days of cable news chatter over the issue, and meta-chatter about who benefits from the chatter. Is it a dark Atwaterian/Rovian ploy or another embarrassing McCain campaign stumble? Lots of ugly charges and counter-charges, I’m sure. Try to keep this in mind: Whatever the gasbags tell you, neither Democrats nor Republicans, Obama nor McCain want the terrorists to win. It’s one of the few things they definitely have in common.

UPDATE: Here we go, from the Obama campaign: “The fact that John McCain’s top advisor says that a terrorist attack on American soil would be a ‘big advantage’ for their political campaign is a complete disgrace, and is exactly the kind of politics that needs to change.”