The Integrity Gap

In a scathing memo today , the Obama campaign describes Clinton’s “history of misleading voters” on issues like—deep breath—NAFTA, the Family Medical Leave Act, her Iraq vote, her foreign-policy experience, Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s religion, and her “35 years of public service.” It weaves these examples into a larger case that voters consider Clinton too untrustworthy to be president, citing as a coup de grace a new Gallup poll showing that only 44 percent of Americans consider Clinton “honest and trustworthy,” whereas 63 percent would say that about Obama.

But they ignore the poll’s most telling numbers: that a whopping 67 percent of Americans think John McCain is trustworthy.

If you’re surprised to see that McCain’s trust rating is so high, that’s probably because you’ve been paying attention to his reversal on Bush’s tax cuts , his recent 180-degree embrace of the religious right, and his close relationships with lobbyists. Needless to say, most people don’t know or don’t care. However well-known among reporters and commentators, McCain’s deviations from straight talk haven’t penetrated the national consciousness. To the average voter, McCain is still a maverick. And the Gallup numbers reflect that.

McCain’s relative strength on the “trust” question could also owe to the relative quietude on the Republican front right now. While Clinton and Obama shred each other on the front page, McCain gets to schmooze donors, write legislation, and take long diplomatic trips, pausing only to lob the occasional hand grenade over into the Democratic bunker. Maybe that’s also why 20 percent of Dems say that if their candidate doesn’t win, they would vote for McCain, according to one poll. Given the state of both contests right now, no wonder voters think McCain has more integrity.