John Weaver, John McCain's former top strategist, says the Republican candidate is making both a moral and a a tactical mistake by letting abusive hecklers have free rein at rallies:
"People need to understand, for moral reasons and the protection of our civil society, the differences with Senator Obama are ideological, based on clear differences on policy and a lack of experience compared to Senator McCain," Weaver said. "And from a purely practical political vantage point, please find me a swing voter, an undecided independent, or a torn female voter that finds an angry mob mentality attractive."
One of Washington's longest serving political hands expressed bewilderment and fright over the vitriol coming from McCain-Palin rallies, saying that the anger of the crowds could lead to violence.
"One of the most striking things we've seen in the last few day, we have seen it at the Palin rallies and we saw it at the McCain rally today," said David Gergen, appearing on Anderson Cooper 360 Thursday evening. "And we saw it to a considerable degree during the rescue package legislation. There is a free-floating sort of whipping-around anger that could really lead to some violence. And I think we're not far from that."
Gergen's remark came hours after John McCain and Sarah Palin held a rally in Wisconsin that saw attendees pleading with them to go on the attack against Barack Obama over his past associations and "socialistic" behavior. Earlier in the week crowd members at other McCain-Palin events have screamed out that Obama is a terrorist, has committed treason, and should be killed.
Questioner: I'm mad. I'm really mad. And what's gonna surprise you, it's not the economy. It's the socialists taking over our country. [applause] Sit down, I'm not done! Thank you. Let me finish, please. [laughter]
McCain: Excuse me. [laughter]
Questioner: Thank you. I think its so important in today's country to see what we are missing and what's really going on. When you have an Obama, Pelosi, and the rest of the hooligans up there gonna run this country, we gotta have our head examined. It's time that you two are representing us, and we are mad! So go get em! [applause, chants of USA!]
McCain: Well, I think I got the message. [laughter] Could I just say, the gentleman is right.
"I really worry when we get people -- when you get the kind of rhetoric that you're getting at these rallies now," said Gergen. "I think it's really imperative the candidates try to calm people down."
Former McCain supporter Frank Schaeffer, writing Friday in the Baltimore Sun, concurred:
John McCain: In 2000, as a lifelong Republican, I worked to get you elected instead of George W. Bush. In return, you wrote an endorsement of one of my books about military service. You seemed to be a man who put principle ahead of mere political gain.
You have changed. You have a choice: Go down in history as a decent senator and an honorable military man with many successes, or go down in history as the latest abettor of right-wing extremist hate.
The Washington Post's Dan Balz warned that McCain is headed down the same dirty path George W. Bush took in the 2000 South Carolina primary.
"McCain's tactics are over the line, with no restraint in sight, and threaten to provoke reactions among partisans on both sides that will continue to escalate."
I was in contact over the last 24 hours with another veteran of recent Republican presidential campaigns and asked, on a not-for-attribution basis, whether he believed McCain's campaign is taking a big risk with its negative turn. "Yes," this strategist replied. "Big mistake. If this stuff mattered, then why didn't they raise it five months ago. Sad."