Today, the New York Times (finally) got around to running an article about John McCain’s courting of John Hagee which suggested that the McCain campaign was essentially unaware of Hagee’s record and unprepared for the controversy that ensued:
The controversy surrounding Mr. Hagee seemed to take the McCain campaign by surprise, said David C. Leege, an expert on Catholic voters and an emeritus professor of political science at Notre Dame.
Mr. McCain began seeking Mr. Hagee’s endorsement more than a year ago, trying to bolster the campaign’s support among evangelical voters. Republican leaders are concerned that evangelicals will sit out the election in November, depriving Mr. McCain of votes that may be crucial to beating the Democratic nominee.
Mr. Hagee has a large following and a vast reach on radio and television. But he has also been criticized by Catholics for comments about the church and, recently, by some Jews for his views on Israel.
After Mr. Hagee endorsed Mr. McCain, the criticism was fierce and Mr. McCain soon distanced himself, issuing a series of statements until he announced he was “repudiating” those of Mr. Hagee’s views that might be considered anti-Catholic.
A McCain adviser acknowledged on Monday that the campaign had failed to look into Mr. Hagee’s background adequately and said that as a result the campaign’s procedures for vetting endorsers had improved.
It is imperative that the McCain campaign ensure that its vetting procedure has improved, because The Brody File reports that it is hard at work putting together a “Committee of 50” Religious Right leaders that McCain intends to try and win over:
The Brody File has been accumulating information about how John McCain is planning to reach out to Evangelicals.
An informed source tells me there’s a plan developing to come up with something called a “Committee of 50.”
Basically this will be a key list of 50 religious and opinion leaders that the McCain camp will target when it comes to their outreach. It will be made up of “new guard” and “old guard” figures.
The list is still in development, but the bottom line here is that the McCain camp has no desire to start a dialogue with folks who want to beat up the senator over some of his views. They’re looking for people who are open to listening to him, convinced that they will like what they hear.
Don’t expect the McCain team to set their sights just on national leaders. The team that is currently being assembled will really be active on the local level, going pastor to pastor, church to church.
Whether McCain and his staff actually bother to thoroughly vet this list remains to be seen. Not that it matters really, because if it turns out to cause him problems, he can just do what he has done in the past by either flip-flopping, offering a politically expedient, after-the-fact repudiation, and simply claiming that his outreach to the Right is all just for show.