Dems see McCain's 'Not too important' remark as gold

Democrats hope that they have found another sound bite that they can use to attack Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBiden's debate performance renews questions of health At debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR Meghan McCain swipes at Sanders: 'Don't you dare lecture Biden about cancer' MORE’s (R-Ariz.) stance on the Iraq war after the GOP presidential candidate on Wednesday said that it is “not too important” when U.S. troops can come home.

McCain opponents seized on the remark and immediately criticized the senator for the statement, reminiscent of a similar push following McCain’s statement that he would not object to American troops staying in Iraq for “100 years.”

ADVERTISEMENT
Asked by NBC "Today Show" host Matt Lauer if there is now a better estimate of when troops can come home, McCain said: “No, but that’s not too important. What’s important is the casualties in Iraq.”

Top Democrats in Congress and liberal bloggers mobilized to disseminate and frame the comment, hoping to get the same mileage out of the statement that they have with McCain’s “100 years” quote.

Another parallel to the aggressive effort to use the remark against McCain is that its context is largely ignored.

As with the “100 years” remark, McCain drew a connection between a continued military presence in Iraq and the continued peaceful military presences in Germany and South Korea. And, like with the “100 years” quote, McCain’s attempt to put context around his comment was largely ignored as his opponents quickly seized on the “not too important” part.

“John McCain was asked if he had a ‘better estimate’ for a timeline for withdrawal. As John McCain has always said, that is not as important as conditions on the ground and the recommendations of commanders in the field.  Any reasonable person who reads the full transcript would see this and reject the Obama campaign’s attempt to manipulate, twist and distort the truth,” McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds said.

The campaign message machine of rival Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaAt debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR Appeals court allows Trump emoluments case to move forward Warren isn't leading polls, but at debate she looks like front-runner MORE (D-Ill.) rapidly kicked into gear, scheduling a conference call with Sen. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryThe Memo: Democrats struggle to find the strongest swing-state candidate 2020 caucuses pose biggest challenge yet for Iowa's top pollster Kentucky basketball coach praises Obama after golf round: 'He is a really serious golfer' MORE (D-Mass.) and Obama foreign policy adviser Dr. Susan Rice to discuss the comment with reporters.

Kerry called the statement “unbelievably out of touch,” saying that it is “very important” to the families of soldiers in Iraq that they come home soon. 

Congressional Democratic leaders also wasted no time to weigh in on the issue.

“McCain’s statement today that withdrawing troops doesn’t matter is a crystal-clear indicator that he just doesn’t get the grave national-security consequences of staying the course,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidHarry Reid warns Trump 'can be reelected' Homeland Security Republican accuses Navy of withholding UFO info Poll: 47 percent back limits on Senate filibuster MORE (D-Nev.).

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) chimed in that McCain’s comment is “yet another indication how out of touch he is with the effect the war in Iraq is having on the readiness of our military.”

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) said that “once again, John McCain has displayed a fundamental misunderstanding about the situation in Iraq, our strained military and American troops and their families.”

In addition, The Huffington Post and Talking Points Memo, leaders of the liberal blogosphere, quickly sprang to action as well, with the comment leading both blogs.

Talking Points Memo writes that “having apparently learned nothing from the ‘100 Years’ backlash, McCain tells the 'Today Show' he can’t give a good estimate of when troops would come home, ‘but that’s not too important.’ ” 

The Huffington Post sent out a blast e-mail informing its community that “whatever merits there may be for [McCain's] message, his delivery is once again promising to get him into trouble.” 

The “100 years” comment proved to be gold for Democrats, as presidential candidates and party committees used the statement to mobilize their anti-war contingent against McCain and raise funds. In addition, McCain and his surrogates had to explain the context of the remark endlessly, something they will likely have to do again now.

Realizing that the comment could be potentially damaging, the McCain campaign quickly scheduled a conference call with Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), John ThuneJohn Randolph Thune'Mike Pounce' trends on Twitter after Trump slip at GOP retreat The Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Congress set to ignore Trump's wall request in stopgap measure MORE (R-S.D.) and senior foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann to “set the record straight.”

But despite efforts by leaders of the Democratic message machine, “not too important” may not get the same mileage as “100 years.” McCain has made numerous gaffes since the “100 years” comment that seemed just as potentially damaging, such as his confusing Sunni and Shiite, without any of them gaining much traction.