Stop Me if You Think That You've Heard This One Before


Today was hardly the first time John McCain has put Country First by showily "suspending" his campaign for the White House. On March 31, 1999, a week before his scheduled "official announcement" confirming the months-old news that he was running for president, and a week after Bill Clinton sent bombers over Kosovo, McCain announced that "It's not appropriate at this time to launch a political campaign."

How'd that work for him politically? According to sympathetic biographer Robert Timberg,

His decision amounted to a masterful political stroke. The Washington Post's Mary McGrory said that "professional politicians of both parties were wowed by McCain's beau geste…. McCain has made himself the de facto Republican foreign policy spokesman, and is getting yards of publicity for a non-event." The kudos kept pouring in, as did even more demands for him to appear on news-oriented TV talk shows. On one day alone, Monday, April 5, he could be seen arguing his case on Fox News's Crier Report, CNN's Larry King Live, PBS's Charlie Rose, two programs on CNBC, and two more on MSNBC, according to the Post's Dan Balz. Balz quoted one Republican strategist as labeling the conflict in Kosovo "All McCain, all the time." By week's end, syndicated columnist Mark Shields, on CNN's Capital Gang, said, "Let me just say in thirty-five years in Washington, I have never seen a debate dominated by an individual in the minority party as I've seen this one dominated by John McCain."

As Jake Tapper reported, in a May 1999 Salon piece that began with the phrase "First, a confession: Sen. John McCain almost seduced me":

"It tells people, here's a guy who doesn't need consultants to tell him what he believes in," says Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., another McCain 2000 co-chairman. "Contrast that with who's been leading this country for the last seven years."

"He's surged in New Hampshire," brags [Warren] Rudman. "He went from 3 percent to 15 percent in just a month."

As [Sen. Gordon] Smith puts it, "He's won the Kosovo primary."