On Thursday, John McCain communications director Jill Hazelbaker raised eyebrows when she appeared to make a frontal attack on Barack Obama's supposed purpose in visiting Iraq and Afghanistan, describing it as a "first-of-its-kind campaign rally overseas."
Upon initial review, it proved too spicy a riposte for the spokeswoman's own boss, who told reporters aboard his Straight Talk Express that he was personally "glad" for Obama's visit to Iraq and Afghanistan, and that he would have to "talk to" Hazelbaker about her remark.
When team McCain regrouped, however, perhaps they found that it would be tough to simply blame Hazelbaker for popping off, since the campaign had already lent the attack a more authoritative air by blast-emailing out her comments under official seal. So, later Thursday, as First Read reported, McCain attempted to distinguish between the Global War on Terror stops on Obama's trip, which they are now supposed to be fine with, and the speeches in Europe -- such as in Germany -- which McCain is comfortable describing as having "political flavor, to say the least."
That's a nice bit of political footwork, so long as the McCain campaign can stick to the steps and only accuse Obama of politics when he's standing in Europe. But there are signs that, as Obama's foreign trip approaches, they simply may not be able to resist the urge to attack Obama's visit to Iraq in particular.
This morning, the McCain campaign emailed out a Wall Street Journal editorial that noted "a media entourage as large as some of his rallies" will be in along for the ride with Obama in Iraq. "He'll no doubt learn a lot, in addition to getting a good photo op," the Journal also opined, subtly making the same charge as Hazelbaker regarding the trip's ostensibly political roots.
And at Thursday's unveiling of a new anti-Obama campaign video, several Republican members of Congress who had been rounded up by the McCain campaign ventured onto Hazelbaker-like turf, as well.
Right after noting that Obama's upcoming visit to Afghanistan will be his first, North Carolina Senator Richard Burr told reporters: "I think it's safe to say that as this trip becomes reality, it's also reality that it's more about politics than it is about fact-finding or about exploring the relationships abroad for our country and others in the future."
Rep. Eric Cantor trod similar ground when decrying the amount of media attention planned for Obama's trip, saying: "Is this type of coverage fair? This is nothing but a political stunt."
And, finally, Rep. Marsha Blackburn made reference to the "702 guardsmen" and "15,000 men and women from Fort Campbell" serving abroad before adding that she hoped Obama would "spare them the photo-op," if his mind is "already made up."
Her last line before handing things back over to McCain senior foreign policy adviser Randy Scheunemann? "I hope he will not insult [the troops] by telling them it is politics and not their good work that is going to influence his policy."
So, while McCain himself may only choose to accuse Obama of playing politics when he gives a speech in Germany, as of now, it's far from clear that he's instructed his surrogates to do the same.