Late Sunday evening, Steve Schmidt let loose his Big Secret. The secret that is a kill shot to the late Republican Senator John McCain’s myth, which yesterday was still as steeped in the feverish patriotism we afford certain war heroes as it was when he was alive. John McCain got special treatment from the press; they upheld this myth for him in return for his company.
The Big Secret revealed in Schmidt’s “The Warning” newsletter is that John McCain was a hero, but also a coward. A coward who put the national security of this country behind his own ambitions and reputation. A man who met with Sarah Palin privately and determined that she was indeed ready to be President and thus his Vice Presidential pick for his doomed 2008 run. A man who had an alleged affair for years with a lobbyist and lied about it when the New York Times spilled the beans. A man who lied to Steve Schmidt about this affair, making Schmidt complicit in lying to the press, and then later told Schmidt the truth.
In Schmidt’s telling, McCain turned a blind eye to the Russian involvement of his top advisor, Rick Davis, who “who was making millions of dollars with his partner, Paul Manafort. Manafort was advancing the interests of the Russian Federation in Ukraine and across Eastern Europe.” They worked for Oleg Deripaska and Victor Yanukovych. John McCain wasn’t exactly distanced from this Russian propaganda laundry factory, Schmidt writes, as he spent his 70th birthday on a Russian yacht.
Why did McCain tolerate this? Schmidt writes that the Republican myth did so because of a longstanding affair he had had with a lobbyist, first publicized in this New York Times article from February 21, 2008. A lobbyist “to whom he was credibly accused of providing special favors,” who at one point, according to Schmidt, called McCain’s Senate Chief of Staff from the front seat of her parked and running car in her closed garage “to pass along the message that she wanted to say goodbye to John McCain, and that she loved him.”
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At this point, you might be thinking but it seems like everyone has affairs. How is this a kill shot? The NYT piece reported: “Mr. McCain, 71, and the lobbyist, Vicki Iseman, 40, both say they never had a romantic relationship. But to his advisers, even the appearance of a close bond with a lobbyist whose clients often had business before the Senate committee Mr. McCain led threatened the story of redemption and rectitude that defined his political identity. It had been just a decade since an official favor for a friend with regulatory problems had nearly ended Mr. McCain’s political career by ensnaring him in the Keating Five scandal. In the years that followed, he reinvented himself as the scourge of special interests, a crusader for stricter ethics and campaign finance rules, a man of honor chastened by a brush with shame.”
Our media by and large fell for McCain’s reinvention. It was seen as impolite and beneath decent people to reference his past.
Schmidt writes, “For 14 years, I have been accused of being disloyal for speaking out against Sarah Palin by the people who both failed to vet her and who know what had transpired with the lobbyist.” So we can see how he got to this place of finally unloading – no one deserves to be saddled with the inaccurate accusation that they “vetted” Sarah Palin and found her competent.
Schmidt writes that it was Rick Davis who “vetted” Sarah Palin, whom Steve admits he pushed as a Hail Mary for the struggling campaign. Schmidt reports he was very busy managing the distraught lobbyist during this time. All of this work went unpaid as well, according to Schmidt. (You can see how his resentment would be bursting by now, to be publicly smeared as a pedophile by the family for whom he worked for free and then took the brunt of the Palin blame.)
“It took less than three minutes for me to absorb the magnitude of the disaster. Should this have happened earlier, the selection of her would never have happened. This was a lapse in John’s judgment, not mine. My mistake was leaving John McCain alone in a room with her,” Schmidt writes.
“The bravest man that I had ever met turned out to be terrified of the creature that he had created. His refusal to be honest about his mistake of picking her – and his unwillingness to confront the furies she unleashed – allowed an ember to grow into a conflagration that is foundational to our current catastrophic denial of reality and profound dishonesty of the far right…. He said so many other things that he didn’t truly believe because they were politically expedient.”
That is not John McCain, the legend, the myth, the brave war hero. That is John McCain, a flawed human being who was allowed by our media to hide the truth of his personal flaws and ties to Russia because of his myth. Yes, he was a war hero. He also chose Sarah Palin as his Vice Presidential nominee and allegedly lied to the American people and smeared journalists who reported his close relationship with the lobbyist.
The “maverick” you were sold is, in fact, a bit of a coward.
It’s worth asking why for so long the media has somehow pretended the Palin choice wasn’t John McCain’s responsibility.
Because the broader point of Schmidt’s weekend of unburdening is not about himself or even John McCain or Sarah Palin or even the Russians. The broader point is how we, as Americans, don’t like to be told the truth and how our media so loves mythology that they work to deliver lies to us instead of holding the powerful accountable.
“John McCain was a complicated man. He was an idealist, who could be transactional and deeply cynical. He was a mirror, who exposed the vanities of so many ‘hangers on’ in the media who sought his favor and companionship, as opposed to delivering the scrutiny a powerful politician deserved.”
The theme here is TRUE BELIEVERS.
John McCain allowed himself to fall for chaos agent Sarah Palin as a capable Vice President because his campaign was falling apart due to his own misdeeds – the Russian connections he allowed in order to cover up his alleged affair with the lobbyist. Sarah Palin herself had long believed that she should be president due to her falling for a far right radical Christian narrative. Steve Schmidt allowed himself to be used by the entire McCain family because he believed in John McCain’s myth.
The NYT touched on this weakness of McCain’s in that 2008 piece, “Even as he has vowed to hold himself to the highest ethical standards, his confidence in his own integrity has sometimes seemed to blind him to potentially embarrassing conflicts of interest.” His confidence in his own integrity.
Most of us have at some point fallen for what we want to see in someone instead of seeing what they are. Reporters and journalists are also just human beings. They all bring a bias; it might not be a political one, it might be their own career ambitions or their burning idealism.
A blind spot creates a willingness to look the other way, which ultimately has in this case enabled a grave ongoing threat to our national security and brought us to the point where our highest court in the land is majority ruled by chaos agents of unsound mind with no integrity and certainly no legitimacy — installed by a man Russia saw as yet another easy, willing target because just like Sarah Palin, Donald Trump has that ego. That true believer fragile ego that operates under delusions of grandeur easily exploited by a man like Putin.
Here we are again at TRUE BELIEVERS.
“I have always believed that a great nation needs its myths and heroes…. Today, I view loyalty through a prism of duty to my family, country and the truth,” Schmidt wrote in his reckoning.
Schmidt is certainly not perfect, nor the hero of the bigger story. But then, no one is. There are so few real heroes. The real heroes never cast themselves in that light, nor do they seek or demand obedience and compliance. (John Lewis, Martin Luther King, Jr, Rosa Parks are but a few examples of true heroism.)
But he is also not the villain. The thing is, Schmidt didn’t claim to be a hero. He took the blame all of these years for Sarah Palin, even while admitted her crushing faults and failures. That decision was John McCain’s, who was brought to his knees due to his own cowardice and putting his political ambitions ahead of the country. Schmidt carried this burden to protect the mythology of John McCain.
Just as we, as a nation, have for so long clung to the mythology of this young country as immune to the failings that brought devastating wars to other nations. This mythology has led to an electorate that swings from Worshiped Candidate to Worshiped Candidate, stumbling through the attacks on democracy waiting for the Perfect Candidate to save us. We are a nation in need of a hero, and that makes us weak to predators.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine should serve as an opportunity for us to realize that freedom is a constant battle and sometimes the biggest threat to our freedom is our own willing compliance to be silent when we see wrong-doing. This fault is not John McCain’s alone. We see the corruption enabled by this fault in the Republican Party today.
Ultimately, we are all susceptible. To protect our liberty, we must maintain a watch over our own beliefs and never put any politician or person on such a pedestal as to believe they should be given absolute, unchecked power. And that is the larger lesson from the age of Trumpism: We must stop worshiping mere mortals — from Trump to Bernie to Hillary, far too many worshiped the person over the ideas, which is how we ended up with the stunning disaster of Trump in the White House.
Schmidt’s kill shot to McCain’s myth can serve the higher ideal of opening our eyes to the ways in which we have been conditioned to worship the person over the idea. Democracy will not flourish like this. Our nation must grow into one willing to do as France did in their recent election – hold their nose if they must, but vote for democracy. We must put democratic ideals above individuals.
No one is coming to save us. We must save ourselves with our votes, our voices, and our personal courage.
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Sarah has been credentialed to cover President Barack Obama, then VP Joe Biden, 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and exclusively interviewed Speaker Nancy Pelosi multiple times and exclusively covered her first home appearance after the first impeachment of then President Donald Trump.
Sarah is two-time Telly award winning video producer and a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.