Victory, for Now

So Round 1 goes to McCain. The Arizona senator’s campaign has successfully turned a story about his alleged inappropriate ties to a lobbyist into a debate about the journalistic integrity of the New York Times . If anything, the Times piece appears to have helped him: It gave the fractured Republican coalition a common enemy against which to consolidate itself.

But it’s hard to see this as benefiting McCain in the long run. Here ’s why.

Whatever the story’s flaws, it broke the ice in what is bound to be a yearlong examination of McCain’s complicated (that’s generous) relationship with lobbyists—romantic or otherwise—despite being an anti-lobbyist crusader. Even if he didn’t give Vicki Iseman the sexytime, the lobbyists who work on his staff, the private jets, the letters written to regulators—they all represent conflicts of interest that will dog him. Plus, the piece may not have introduced evidence of new wrongdoing, but it certainly reminded people of the old.

And if it ever comes out that McCain and Iseman did have an affair, McCain is unequivocally sunk. His denials have been so swift and so strong that no apology would repair the damage.

So yes, McCain came out on top. But now the flood gates are open, and November is a long way off.

Also: Is John McCain telling the truth? See what other people think using Slate V’s MediaCurves analysis of McCain’s press conference on Thursday.