The McCain Campaign Stumbles Over Hagee

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Note: As has happened before, Joe Klein posted on this as I was writing. Don’t miss his take below.

In the course of 24-hours, the McCain campaign has gone from coasting towards the GOP nomination to readopting a defensive crouch. The reason: His endorsement yesterday by Texas pastor John Hagee, an influential televangelist with some rather indelicate views. Among other things, Hagee has suggested that Hurricane Katrina may have resulted from God’s displeasure over a gay pride parade. He has repeatedly linked Adolf Hitler to the Catholic Church. He has suggested that Islam is an inherently violent faith.

McCain’s critics have not claimed that McCain shares these views; there is no real evidence that he does. Rather, writers like Salon’s Glenn Greenwald simply charge that a presidential candidate should not be sidling up to someone who holds such views. What is most curious about the whole ordeal is that the McCain campaign did not seem to see the firestorm coming. The endorsement happened yesterday. This morning, McCain was asked about it by the traveling press. His response:

And I am very proud of the Pastor John Hagee’s spiritual leadership to thousands of people and I am proud of his commitment to the independence and the freedom of the state of Israel. That does not mean that I support or endorse or agree with some of the things that Pastor John Hagee might have said or positions that he may have taken on other issues. I don’t have to agree with everyone who endorses my candidacy. They are supporting my candidacy. I am not endorsing some of their positions.

But the wave of criticism kept growing. So several hours later, the McCain campaign released a stronger statement of condemnation.

Yesterday, Pastor John Hagee endorsed my candidacy for president in San Antonio, Texas. However, in no way did I intend for his endorsement to suggest that I in turn agree with all of Pastor Hagee’s views, which I obviously do not.

Then Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, a prominent Catholic supporter of McCain, sent out his own statement.

As a Catholic, I am keenly aware of the ugliness that all religious intolerance and anti-Catholicism pose in our society. . . . Let me be clear, John McCain would never do anything to insult any citizen on the basis of their religious beliefs. . . . To any citizens and fellow Catholics who might have been offended by Senator McCain’s meeting with Pastor John Hagee, John McCain certainly never intended for that to happen and will take every measure to prevent any such inferences from being made in the future. While John McCain certainly cannot be expected to defend or espouse the views of every individual who has thrown their support to him, McCain completely repudiates any and all remaining elements of anti-Catholicism in America today.

The McCain campaign could have predicted all of this. Bill Donahue, a media savvy head of the Catholic League who got this ball rolling, has been condemning politicians who associate with Hagee for quite sometime. Last year, he hammered Mike Huckabee for agreeing to speak at Hagee’s church. The writing, as they say, was on the wall.

One other note: There is a bit of irony to be found in the current celebration of Bill Donahue by McCain’s liberal foes as a spokesman for Catholic outrage. After all, it was Donahue who led the charge in 2004 against his fellow Catholic John Kerry, who Donahue repeatedly suggested was a bad Catholic on the side of “evil.” Among Donahue’s other gems: “Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular.” Donahue later apologized for using the word “controlled.”