Defending McCain from Adultery, Corruption and The Times

02/21/2008 01:05 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Top Republicans are absolutely apoplectic over new reports that John McCain had an ethically inappropriate (possibly romantic) relationship with a lobbyist, accepted favors from corporations while criticizing the practice, and ran an Orwellian-branded soft money operation, "The Reform Institute," to advance his career and political cronies while railing against soft money.

But the G.O.P. elites aren't mad that McCain did any of those things. They're upset that the media is covering it. In fact, the rage is so intense that many of McCain's harshest Republican critics are rallying around the ethically challenged Senator. The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder cites reactions from arch-conservatives like The American Spectator, The National Review and Commentary, and explains:

The Times story may have succeeded in accomplishing what politics itself could not: unifying the conservative base around McCain by way of their visceral disgust with the New York Times and its lib-ber-ral politics.

Conservative elites do relish attacking The Times, and their default reaction to bad news is to attack the messenger, whether it's Joe Wilson or a newspaper. But The Times editorial staff endorsed McCain, and its news staff held the story for months while McCain trailed in the primaries -- when it would have done the maximum damage. And the paper has repeatedly delayed stories under pressure from the Right Wing machine, including bombshells about Bin Laden and spying, as Cenk Uyger writes today:

The McCain campaign threatened and intimidated them as the Bush team has done on countless occasions and they gave in until someone else was about to release the story. The only thing worse than being bullied by Republicans is getting scooped by your competitors. The story here isn't that the NYT is trying to hurt conservatives, it's the exact opposite -- they're afraid of them. On every occasion that they have had a major story like this, they have held it after being badgered by Republicans. They only print the stories when there are no other options left and the story is about to get printed elsewhere anyway.

So attacking The Times makes no sense, even by the low conspiracy standards of the conservative echo chamber. But more consequentially, this ploy will not cut much ice with the rank and file conservative base. Put aside the G.O.P. establishment in Washington, and you won't find Times-hatred animating much McCain enthusiasm. Active Republicans still back Mike Huckabee because they can't stomach John McCain. This week's news won't help -- no matter who you hear it from.

Originally posted at The Nation. Full disclosure: I frequently appear as a guest on Cenk Uyger's Air America show.