“If Mr. McCain can’t convince voters that he’s better on taxes than is a Democrat who says matter-of-factly that he wants to raise taxes, the Republican is going to lose in a rout,” fumed the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page Wednesday in a piece headlined “McCain’s Tax Blunder.”
The flap began Sunday, when ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked McCain whether “payroll tax increases are on the table” in the effort to make Social Security solvent.
“There is nothing that’s off the table,” McCain replied. “I have my positions and I’ll articulate them. But nothing’s off the table.”
It was not exactly a vow to raise taxes, but it was enough to set off alarm bells at the conservative Club for Growth.
“This statement was particularly shocking because you have been adamant in your opposition to raising taxes under any circumstances,” admonished club President Pat Toomey in a letter to McCain. “Raising the payroll tax or the wage cap on Social Security taxes will increase the tax burden on many Americans.”
Meanwhile, McCain was attacked by the Democratic National Committee, which used the episode to question the Republican’s veracity.
“McCain tax pledge? Not so much,” blared a DNC news release, which mocked McCain’s previous declaration that “Senator Obama will raise your taxes. I won’t.”
In an effort at damage control, McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds tried to walk back his boss’ statement during an interview with Megyn Kelly of Fox News, who reiterated the question of whether a payroll tax increase is “on the table.”
“No, Megyn. There is no imaginable circumstance where John McCain would raise payroll taxes,” Bounds replied. “It’s absolutely out of the question.”
Liberal commentator Keith Olbermann of MSNBC marveled: “That’s the damnedest thing I’ve heard yet. How is that possible that the candidate is not speaking for his own campaign?”