When you have friends like John McCain, who needs political enemies? That was surely the thinking of Mitt Romney today after the aforementioned said he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008 over the former Massachusetts governor because she was the “better candidate”.
The slip by Senator McCain, which seemed to present Ms Palin as the gold standard of campaigning to which Mr Romney could not hope to measure up, came at a bad time. Mr Romney continues to face calls not just from Democrats but also some in his own party to release tax returns going back several years to quell questions about his personal fortune and whether he parked some of it overseas to dodge taxes.
Senator McCain thought he was being helpful. When in 2008 he rejected Mr Romney, his former rival for the nomination, as his choice for Veep it was not because of anything his vetting team had seen after sifting through two decades worth of Mr Romney’s tax returns, he said. But his follow-up – that he did it merely because Ms Palin seemed the “better” choice – ignited an unwanted uproar.
A livid Mr McCain later complained his words had been distorted. “We’ve taken an answer to a question as to why I selected her not Romney and twisted it around of course to some interpretation which is obviously not the case. It’s really getting a little disgraceful, twisting someone’s words when clearly I said and meant that she was the best fit for our campaign.”
Today, the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, made his own stab at bailing water for the Republican nominee. “This is another sideshow intended to draw the American people’s attention away from the real issue,” he said. “And the real issue is the president’s economic policies have failed. They’ve actually made things worse.” The election, he added, is “not about the tax returns. It’s about the economy.”
Another Romney cheerleader extracting his foot from his mouth is John Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor, who was forced to apologise after saying on Tuesday that he wished “this president would learn to be an American”. He insisted later that he was talking about Mr Obama’s business policies, but it sounded a lot like he thought him either short on patriotism or – that old thing – born of another land.
Senator McCain says here merely wanted to “personally vouch” for the fact that Mr Romney’s tax returns are clean and proper. “The only reason why I’m saying what I’m saying now is because of the scurrilous, scurrilous Chicago style sleaze intimations with no basis in fact whatsoever that there might’ve been something wrong with Mitt Romney’s tax returns, which is disgraceful,” he said.
Moreover there was a more identifiable problem with Mr Romney that didn’t having to do with his campaign abilities. It was his wealth. “It would be a big liability that the presidential and the vice presidential candidates together owned more than a dozen homes,” Steve Schmidt, the former top aide to Mr McCain, said this week. “It was like something out of a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit. I mean, come on.”
Those Republicans who have joined Democrats in urging Mr Romney to release his returns in hopes of ending the cycle of negative media coverage have included Governor Rick Perry of Texas and Congressman Ron Paul, who both ran against him for this year’s nomination.