When Donald Trump said yesterday that President Obama was “directly responsible” for the deadliest mass-shooting in American history, it was the latest evidence of a candidate who’s abandoned any sense of propriety or decency.
Wait, did I say Donald Trump? I meant John McCain.
Republican Sen. John McCain on Thursday blamed President Barack Obama for the deadly shooting in Orlando that killed 49 club goers.He said the president is “directly responsible for it because” of his “utter failures” in Iraq.
“Barack Obama is directly responsible for it because when he pulled everybody out of Iraq, al Qaeda went to Syria and became ISIS and ISIS is what it is today thanks to Barack Obama’s failures, utter failures by pulling everybody out of Iraq thinking that conflicts end just because we leave,” McCain told reporters on Capitol Hill, according to audio obtained by NBC News.
The senator added, “So the responsibility for it lies with President Barack Obama and his failed policies.”
It wasn’t long before McCain realized this kind of unhinged rhetoric might be problematic, so the senator soon after issued a follow-up statement saying he “misspoke.”
That’s probably not the right word. When someone says “Iraq” when they meant “Iran,” that’s misspeaking. When the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee delivers a 65-word rant blaming the president for a mass murder, that’s more than a slip of the tongue.
McCain added, by way of a “clarification,” that he was blaming the president’s “national security decisions” for the rise of ISIS, “not the president himself.”
How gracious of him.
The clumsy walk-back notwithstanding, what’s wrong with McCain’s argument? Everything.
Right off the bat, let’s not forget that the lunatic responsible for the Orlando massacre was not a member of ISIS. He may have been inspired in some way by the terrorists, and he may have pledged some kind of allegiance to them, but there’s no evidence at all that ISIS was somehow involved in planning and/or executing this attack.
It may be politically convenient to blame a foreign foe for an American buying guns in America and then killing Americans on American soil, but giving ISIS more credit than it deserves is a mistake.
Second, McCain’s broader point is hard to take seriously. Here’s the senator’s logic: Obama withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq in 2010, which eventually and indirectly led to the creation of ISIS, which eventually led lunatics to identify with ISIS, which eventually led to the Orlando mass-shooting.
Even putting aside the bizarre leaps of logic necessarily to adopt such a thesis, McCain is overlooking the fact that (a) he celebrated Obama’s troop withdrawal in 2010; (b) the troop withdrawal was the result of a U.S./Iraq Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by the Bush/Cheney administration; and (c) by the senator’s own reasoning, given his enthusiastic support for the war in Iraq, McCain would have to hold himself “directly responsible” for the Orlando slayings, too.
Look, I’m aware of the broader circumstances. McCain is facing a tough re-election fight in Arizona, including a competitive Republican primary. He has an incentive to say ridiculous and irresponsible things about the president, and perhaps even try to exploit a tragedy for partisan ends.
But if these are the final months of McCain’s lengthy congressional career, is this really how he wants to go out? Using the kind of rhetoric more closely associated with Trump than an ostensible Republican statesman?
Postscript: Earlier this month, a college in Pennsylvania awarded McCain a “civility” prize. Perhaps college administrators can ask for it back?