John McCain's Beef with Joe Klein Isn't Really About Romney

The Players: Joe Klein, a Time columnist currently wondering why Republicans don't seem to like Mitt Romney; John McCain, a former presidential candidate who once was a Republican who didn't love Romney

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The Players: Joe Klein, a Time columnist currently wondering why Republicans don't seem to like Mitt Romney; John McCain, a former presidential candidate who once was a Republican who didn't love Romney

The Opening Serve: Klein's latest column was entitled "Where Is The Love?"  and attempts to explain why Mitt Romney can't shake his second-place status even though he's supposed to be a stronger candidate this time around.  "Unfortunately, all Romney's calculations, all the improvements in his stump and debate performances--all of it has left him in the same old place, uninspiring to moderates and untrustworthy to conservatives, an unloved, forlorn front runner," writes Klein. Adding, "He maintains the support of 20 percent of Republicans, more or less, but the vast majority of Romney's potential supporters have suffered a series of malarial fevers and chills, warming and cooling on his opponents, desperate to find a candidate to take his place."  Yes, you read right, Klein just compared Romney's campaign to an unwanted infectious disease spread by parasites. "So far this year, his retooled machine has moved too subtly to be caught," continues Klein noting that right now, Romney wouldn't be able to defeat Obama.  "His tiny movements pass for stability in a field of candidates whose mistakes are melodramatic, whose fortunes soar and plunge ... But if he's elected President, Romney will have to turn off the motor, sit down in a big chair and make some decisions--and one wonders if he'll be able to summon the courage, the uncalculated courage, that has so often been missing in his presidential campaigns." But it was Senator John McCain (or his Twitter ghostwriter), not Romney, who took to social media to react and  to give the 140-character equivalent of phooey. "Bad news: Another below-the-belt Joe Klein hit piece on Romney. Good news: Nobody cares," tweeted McCain yesterday.

The Return Volley: McCain's initial tweet was retweeted over 100 times, garnering support from his followers and enticing them to join in on the Klein-hating. " In spite of the many problems that I have w/ @SenJohnMcCain, he occasionally does things that make me love the guy," wrote one. "@SenJohnMcCain I love it when you bash on journalists! Keep it up!!!" wrote another.  Joel Klein, when asked about the offending tweet added some semblance of maturity and didn't give a response to "dignify" McCain's attack. "I don’t think this requires a response from me," he told Politico.

What They Say They're Fighting About: Mitt Romney. McCain is quick to defend Romney or who Klein calls a "forlorn" front runner. And perhaps McCain is towing the party line--plugging for the centrist "tiny movement" guy and not promoting the caustic, melodramatic frontrunners. But just a little under four years ago, when the political climate was not unlike like where we are today and a Republican nomination was up for grabs, it was McCain who was in advanced candidate mode and was more than happy to bash Romney over a lot of the same Klein talking points--healthcare, taxes, and electability--albeit with more bluntness and more personal attacks.

What They're Really Fighting About: The history between McCain and Klein. These two haven't gotten along. Klein wasn't and hasn't been the kindest writer to McCain both during and after his failed presidency campaign in 2008. Back then Klein had reiterated a then-Romney-ish talking point about McCain's temperament and once wrote that McCain "smacks of desperation." This all culminated in an immature media spat, where grown men told each other to "be quiet" and resorted to "idiot" insults to disparage one another. Prior to yesterday's tweet and non-reply, a Klein piece from late 2010 shows the wounds are still there. "He’s a bitter man now, who can barely tolerate the fact that he lost to Barack Obama. But he lost for an obvious reason: his campaign proved him to be puerile and feckless, a politician who panicked when the heat was on during the financial collapse, a trigger-happy gambler who chose an incompetent for his vice president. He has made quite a show ever since of demonstrating his petulance and lack of grace."

Who's Winning Now: Klein. Props go out to Klein for refusing to get sucked into Twitter-fighting with McCain. But Twitter-fighting and maturity levels aside, McCain's vocal displeasure with the article actually works against him in two ways. The first being that by throwing his opinion into the ether of social media (and it has been retweeted a whole bunch) he's already drawn a bigger audience to the article. But the more interesting question is why is McCain suddenly batting for Romney? Sure, his daughter has been vocal about her Team Romney status, but McCain has never had a favorite in this race, and has even gone on to say that he wouldn't endorse a candidate and that it's "appropriate to stay out of the race"--all of which just makes his intrusion seem less like Romney camaraderie and more like the opportunity to take a jab at Klein.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.