Steve Schmidt frequently gets the urge to purge himself in public and last weekend was at it again, power-spraying words at the late Sen. John McCain and his surviving family members.
Schmidt is one of the professional smart asses who created the Lincoln Project, a twice disgraced super-PAC made up of former Republican operatives. Lincoln Project convinced liberals to pay them millions to bring their gum-snapping, sophomoric wisecracks to the campaign against Donald Trump.
As you would expect, the Lincoln boys are glib. They’re slick. But their most ascending feature is their vanity – a dirigible of self-delusion. They actually believed they were saving Democracy, no small ambition for work-a-day hacks who had until then been greasing the skids of American politics.
Try to understand.
If you were lost in a crowd of greaseballs who run political campaigns, you might do as Steve Schmidt did in 2018 and aspire to something more dignified. Schmidt announced he was leaving the “corrupt” and “immoral” Republican Party for the “only party left in America that stands for what is right and decent and remains fidelitous to our Republic.”
Schmidt wanted to be the victim in a morality tale
If that sounds a little 17th century, it’s because Schmidt’s Twitter posts are, as New York Magazine described it, “marked by the melodramatic and grandiose style … thick with weighty pronouncements about truth and honor.”
On Sunday, truth and honor called Schmidt to drop anchor at Substack and heave overboard the skeletons he’d been saving from the 2008 McCain presidential campaign.
As one who has switched sides and is now a creature of the left, Schmidt could not simply be the tragic figure in his morality tale. He had to be its victim.
“This is a story about lying. Public lying. It is a story about Senator John McCain’s lying, and the damage it has done to many people, including me. It is also a story about my lying because, ultimately, John McCain’s lie became mine.
“Over time, that lie has become heavier as I have been abused by the family of the man I worked for as a volunteer. The burden of carrying this lie – while being attacked for 14 consecutive years by the bully Megan (sic) McCain – has finally reached its end for me.”
Attack the McCains to salvage his own reputation
Schmidt was using his first paragraphs to not only enshrine his victimhood but to reveal the baddy in the backstory. He needed to be precise, because as you know, the left no longer hates John McCain, whose final act was saving Obamacare. It doesn’t hate Cindy McCain, who two years ago endorsed Joe Biden for president and is now an ambassador to Rome.
But the left does despise Meghan McCain, who is best known for her time in the snake pit called ABC’s “The View,” playing the conservative pin cushion to eight liberal fangs.
If you’re skilled at playing the left and unburdening them of their money, as Schmidt is, you understand these distinctions.
So this was first and foremost an attack on Meghan McCain, and the target audience appears to be the political left. It reads like a salvage operation, trying to recover what’s left of Schmidt’s and Lincoln’s tattered reputations, trying to put himself back into the news through someone else’s scandals, not his own.
This isn’t the first time Schmidt played the victim
Scandal had already ripped through the Lincoln Project.
As is well known, that sorry enterprise has been widely accused of employing a partner who was sexually harassing young men with invitations to have sex. John Weaver, one of Lincoln’s co-founders, “sent unsolicited and sexually provocative messages online” to as many as 21 men, The New York Times reported.
In some cases, Weaver “offered professional and personal assistance in exchange for sex.”
The Lincoln brain trust was accused of acting too slowly on the Weaver allegations and of keeping him on the payroll after the first allegations surfaced.
In reaction, Schmidt took the opportunity to, what else, purge himself. Play the victim.
“Mr. Schmidt said the Weaver episode had reawakened his anger at sexual abuse he had experienced as a boy,” The Times reported.
“‘I am incandescently angry about it,’ he said of Mr. Weaver’s actions. ‘I know the journey that lies ahead for every young man that trusted, feared and was abused by John Weaver.’ ”
Now that’s slick.
McCain made no secret about his private stumbles
As was Sunday’s Substack missive, in which Schmidt announced it was time to finally tell the truth he had submerged for 14 years, that John McCain had lied when he told the world he did not have an affair with Beltway lobbyist Vicki Iseman.
“After the New York Times story – which accurately detailed that relationship – was attacked and successfully discredited by the campaign under my direction, John McCain told me the truth backstage at an event in Ohio. Understandably, he was very concerned about this potentially campaign-ending issue. He kept saying, ‘The campaign is over.’ I reassured him that it was behind us.”
Is this the story that shatters the McCain legacy? I doubt it. McCain was a flawed man. He never made a secret that he had stumbled badly in his personal life. He was a bit of a rogue at the U.S. Naval Academy. He left his first wife for a younger, wealthy heiress. Never a moralizer, he was self-effacing even in his farewell speech to the U.S. Senate.
What does it say about Schmidt, however, that the campaign under his direction discredited four New York Times reporters. Then he waited 14 years to publicly come clean?
It’s unlikely that McCain would overlook the Russians
He further alleged that McCain “turned a blind eye to the dealings of his top adviser, Rick Davis, who was making millions of dollars with his partner, Paul Manafort. Manafort was advancing the interests of the Russian Federation in Ukraine and across Eastern Europe.”
This insinuation has special resonance today as Russia invades Ukraine and commits crimes against humanity. But it is slander against John McCain, who, among American politicians, understood earlier than most the essential nature of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Look, Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country,” McCain said. “It’s kleptocracy. It’s corruption.”
Putin hated McCain for this. He even put him on a Russia travel ban, to which McCain smiled and said, “I suppose this means I’ll spend this Easter in Sedona rather than Siberia.”
In 2018, Russian opposition leader Vladimir Kara-Murza wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post headlined, “John McCain saw through Vladimir Putin better than anyone.”
In 2019, the Ukrainians named a street in Kyiv in honor of John McCain.
He’s doing this to stop Meghan’s taunts? Also unlikely
Schmidt’s insinuation is preposterous.
But not so much as his larger point, that Meghan McCain has been bullying him for the last decade and a half. He expects us to believe that he, a campaign hired gun for decades, has been reduced to a quivering square of Jell-O by the taunts of one of John McCain’s daughters.
“Today, I view loyalty through a prism of duty to my family, country and the truth,” wrote Schmidt, still adrift in the 17th century. “The truth requires that – at long last – I speak out. It is not a story that I relish telling, but I must because my continued silence stipulates the validity of untrue allegations and petty slanders. I owe that to my children. I cannot allow for them to see me be abused and bullied by lies. The truth is the only remedy that I know to make Meghan’s abuse stop.”
Schmidt has boosted his Substack screed with a series of social-media blasts that are, to put it kindly, unhinged. He’s Norma Desmond with a Twitter feed.
“My daughter was three at the time and I made a promise to myself that I would make sure that my number one priority in life would be raising a child that never acted like @MeghanMcCain, a spoiled rotten, entitled bully. She (Schmidt’s daughter) is graduating high school next week! Mission achieved!”
Steve Schmidt’s Substack screed raises a lot of intriguing questions, but answers only one definitively.
Who is the real bully?
Phil Boas is editorial page editor of The Arizona Republic. He can be reached at 602-444-8292 or [email protected].