Arianna Huffington's statement that John McCain did not vote for Bush in 2000 has kicked up a fuss, with McCain putting out a statement denying her account. "It's not true," McCain spokesperson Tucker Bounds, told the Washington Post, adding, "I ask you to consider the source." Huffington replied, "By all means!"
Huffington is standing by her story, which she says she kept confidential for nearly eight years. At a reading and book-signing event Monday night at Washington's Politics & Prose Bookstore, Huffington told her audience that Senator McCain and his wife, Cindy, "divulged" their voting decision to her at a Los Angeles dinner party in 2000. Further, Cindy McCain said she cast a write-in vote for her husband, claims Huffington.
"For me, there's a lot of heartbreak involved," Huffington told the packed bookstore, quipping that McCain is "not your run-of-the-mill political flip-flopper, because what did Mitt Romney really care about anyway?" She emphasized that "only when a noble man falls is it a tragedy."
Recall the context: Back in 2000, when the McCains allegedly confided in her, Huffington was a still a Republican with a good relationship with McCain. Now, Huffington, who has since migrated leftward, says McCain has changed fundamentally, abandoning his core principles to embrace Bush in what last night she called a "classic Faustian bargain."
But what looked to be an embarrassment for John McCain may turn out to be an embarrassment of riches. With Bush suffering from rock-bottom job approval ratings and low popularity, McCain's strategists have been looking for a way to distance the presumptive GOP presidential nominee from the Republican White House incumbent.
The worry for McCain is that Huffington's claim will alienate him from core Republican voters and make him look hypocritical with his earlier public embrace of Bush. The McCain camp is well aware of the peril and has already moved from defense to offense. "She's a flake, and a poser, and an attention-seeking diva. And that's on the record," said longtime McCain aide Mark Salter, when asked by the Washington Post why Huffington would make something up about McCain.
Huffington responded by posting an inventory of everything John McCain, over the course of his political tenure, has reportedly denied but which later turned out to be true.
Smiling gleefully at the bookstore crowd, Huffington apologized for arriving late to her own book talk, explaining that she was dealing with the "fallout" from her blog entry.
But if all the kerfuffle ends up helping, and not hurting John McCain, she may feel differently. McCain may just get to have it both ways: Those who want to believe he did vote for Bush in 2000 can accept his denial, and for those who don't want to believe it, this can reinforce their image of him as a maverick.