THE PLANK JANUARY 30, 2008
The highlight of this debate has been the skirmish between John McCain and Mitt Romney over whether the latter once favored a timetable for withdrawal in Iraq. As many commentators have pointed out, McCain misquoted Romney and went around Florida telling audiences what was in essence a lie. Romney, rightfully, was (and remains) furious. Their back-and-forth tonight was tense and prolonged, and I thought Romney got the better of the argument.
What makes the whole thing so bizarre, however, is that it's almost impossible to argue that Romney would not have come out against the surge if he'd believed it was the politically astute thing to do. McCain is lying about Romney's remark, but the underlying point is exactly correct (McCain took a politically brave stand; Romney never would).
The other point worth noting is that in his attack on Romney, McCain keeps mentioning that when Romney uttered the word "timetable" he was voicing the political buzzword of the moment. In short, even if Romney was not calling for a firm timetable, he was signaling to the media and to others that he was actually not an all-out supporter of the surge. Whether McCain is right remains impossible to know (and it's too subtle a dig), but does anyone doubt this is the kind of trick Romney would have loved to pull?