Wead Gives McCain a Headache

One thing that John McCain learnt from his star-crossed love affair with John Hagee is that courting the Christian right can have serious costs, as well as potential benefits. However, that’s not a message congenial to former Bush assistant Doug Wead, who is alarmed at the idea of Christian right leaders losing their kingmaker status. In the battle for McCain’s soul, Wead recently tried to enlist the biggest hitter of them all: Billy Graham. Wead managed to cause some discomfort to the McCain campaign, but only at cost to his own credibility

On Sunday, Wead spilled some beans in Newsmax:

In another disturbing sign that Sen. John McCain has little interest in reaching out to his conservative base, including evangelical Christian voters, his campaign has declined an offer to meet with the Rev. Billy Graham.

…In recent weeks I have been involved with Brian Jacobs, a Fort Worth, Texas, minister and consultant to the Billy Graham Association, to broker a meeting between McCain and Graham. In May, we contacted the McCain campaign with an offer to arrange such a meeting, as we had done between candidate George W. Bush and Graham during the 2000 election.

Wead goes on to reprint a letter sent to him from the McCain campaign which thanks him for the offer but adds that “I must pass along our regrets and do not foresee an opportunity to add this event to the calendar”. Wead – who boasts about how he liaised with evangelicals for George H.W. Bush and arranged a meeting between George W. Bush and Graham in 2000 – clearly had his nose put out of joint by this.

Noting that McCain had also avoided James Dobson, Wead adds:

McCain’s decision not to meet with Graham will likely provoke outrage. And the campaign will likely back down. Graham is no Hagee or Dobson. They will say it was all a mistake and blame it on staff or a “misunderstanding.” But in the process they have revealed their mind-set.

Wead’s carefully-timed controversy appears to have hit the target; the McCain campaign quickly announced that in fact it has been attempting to arrange a meeting with Graham, through his son Franklin Graham. Alas for McCain, though, the Charlotte Observer reports that:

That assertion surprised the Graham organization. Spokesmen for Franklin Graham said he has never negotiated or even discussed with the McCain campaign such a meeting with his dad.

Mark DeMoss, another spokesman for Franklin Graham, did acknowledge that Brett O’Donnell, a senior McCain staffer, had called Franklin Graham’s office months ago, and left a message. But that message, Blume said, asked Franklin Graham to call McCain’s office if he wanted to sit down with the candidate.

But alas for Wead and his associate Brian Jacobs, too:

Wead and Jacobs have no connection with the Graham organization and were never authorized to speak for Billy Graham, according to spokesmen for Billy and Franklin Graham.

“We don’t know who this Brian Jacobs is – we had to Google him to find out,” said Jeremy Blume, a spokesman for Franklin Graham.

(the obscure Jacobs was in fact an area crusade team coordinator for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association for a year, and after that Crusade Director for Jerry Savelle, a Prosperity Gospel preacher and protégé of Kenneth Copeland.)

Mother Jones has further details, and carries a statement from the Graham organization:

Upon further inquiry I understand that two people unaffiliated with either Billy or Franklin Graham apparently independently, without any knowledge by the [Billy Graham Evangelistic Association], tried to broker a meeting between Mr. McCain and the evangelist. Apparently it was their indirect and unofficial involvement that was declined.

Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise for McCain, or even for Obama, to seek out a meeting with Billy Graham, although it would be more of a photo-op than anything else; as Jeff Sharlet noted in 2005, Graham has managed to position himself as someone who has transcended politics, so an endorsement is extremely unlikely (although Graham did once jokingly semi-endorse Hillary Clinton, to the gnashing of conservative teeth).

However, Graham’s son Franklin is a rather less impressive figure, known mainly for his 2001 comments on Islam as “a very evil and wicked religion”. Given Billy Graham’s age and frailty, Franklin Graham would in all likelihood be part of the package of any meeting. Judging by the Hagee and Parsley fiascoes, is it really worth the hassle?