Today, John McCain suspended an aide -- Soren Dayton -- for distributing this controversial YouTube video about Barack Obama and Rev. Wright. As campaigns spokesperson Jill Hazelbaker told Jonathan Martin, Dayton was "reprimanded by campaign leadership."
I defended John McCain when he distanced himself from that radio show host in Ohio who repeatedly invoked Obama's middle name. To me, the radio host was making a tawdry attack, meant to imply Obama was Muslim. And McCain was doing the right thing by not engaging in that sort of campaign.
But this situation is a bit different.
In reading his Twitter message (shown above), Dayton merely wrote: "Good video on Obama and Wright," and included the link. That's it. And for that, he was suspended.
Here's why I think this move might have been politically unwise. Suspending Dayton for passing this video on implies by extension that the message of this video was in some way incorrect, or, at least, not respectable. But, as I've written in the past, it is entirely legitimate to question Obama's affiliation with Rev. Wright -- as well as to highlight Obama's evolving positions.
From Geraldine Ferraro to Samantha Power, this has been the year for apologies and terminations. My question is whether John McCain is willing to throw everyone under the bus the minute they do something that might be embarrassing to him.
Perhaps I'm naive, but I've been told that campaigns actually attack their opponents from time to time. It is unclear precisely what Dayton's job for McCain was (a source tells Jonathan Martin that Dayton was doing "low-level political work for [deputy political director] John Yob."
Dayton was a fairly prominent blogger, and one would suppose he was doing more than simply "low-level" work. Perhaps he wasn't -- or perhaps this is an example of a McCain aide taking another shot at a guy who is already down.
Still, reprimanding him may cause future McCain operatives to think twice before doing their job. Is McCain recommending a sort of "limited war" in which the enemy can shoot at us, but we can't shoot back?
Standing on principle is a good value, but so is supporting your subordinates and so is loyalty. It takes political courage to stand up for your team -- even if it may cost you politically. Is McCain too concerned about wanting to come across as a nice guy?
Hazelbaker emailed me the following statement (which is the same thing she sent Martin):
We have been very clear on the type of campaign we intend to run and this staffer acted in violation of our policy. He has been reprimanded by campaign leadership and suspended from the campaign.
Though they have been clear on the type of campaign they want to run, it is still unclear if, or when, Dayton will be reinstated.
Of course, it is not unheard of for campaigns to engage in a bit of deception involving the leaking of negative information. For example, it is entirely possible that Dayton distributed it under the direction of a campaign superior. It is possible Dayton believed the campaign would have wanted this out there -- but that not telling them would give them plausible deniably.
It is also entirely possible that he has agreed to be the "fall guy" in an effort to save Senator McCain face. In fact, it is likely this little controversy will result in more people viewing this video -- which would obviously be a net-plus for McCain (who gets to remain above the fray).
But -- because this particular video added little to the narrative -- it is more likely that Dayton merely passed this link on, not knowing it would be a big deal -- and that the McCain campaign has chosen to punish him for this. What Dayton is really guilty of is failing to follow the maxim that you should never interfere when the enemy is in the process of committing suicide.
If McCain has any cause to be angry, it's not that Dayton made an ethical lapse -- it's that he made a political one.
Dayton distributed the video via Twitter. The default setting on Twitter allows anyone to "follow" a Twitterer. In other words, it would have been easy for anybody who wanted to catch Dayton (or any other operative, for that matter) in a gaffe, to sign up to receive his messages.
Most folks who use Twitter, do so in a very casual and personal manner. One source who follows Dayton told me that Dayton most likely didn't think he was Twittering in an "official" capacity. Still, anything you write can and will be used against you.
Dayton has since deleted his Twitter account.