The Nutjob Conundrum

Here’s a question: Who doesn’t have a crazy, wingnut, off-message preacher supporting their campaign?

Right now, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright is getting the most attention for, among other things, his statements that the U.S. government caused the AIDS virus; a speech in which he said, “God damn America”; and his less-than-kind words about Hillary Clinton. Obama has distanced himself from Wright in general terms but hasn’t denounced specific statements.

But Obama’s not the only one. Clinton has her own spiritual adviser in the Rev. Bill Graham, who, while generally respected, has made remarks about Jews and the media that wouldn’t endear Clinton to voters. (Their connection hasn’t been an issue on the campaign trail so far.)

Even McCain has embarrassing pastors in his life—more than one, in fact. Earlier this week, McCain ” condemned ” the words that John Hagee “apparently wrote”—Hagee has said some ugly things about gays, Jews, and Catholics. But McCain said his remarks may have been “taken out of context.” Meanwhile, the Rev. Rod Parsly, an Ohio televangelist whom McCain has called a ” spiritual guide ,” wrote in one of his books that Islam is a “false religion” predicated on “deception,” David Corn reports . Not exactly part of McCain’s campaign platform.

So, given that each candidate has an embarrassing pastor, shouldn’t there be a stalemate? As Ambinder points out , the McCain campaign can’t ding Obama for Wright’s words—as it implicitly did in an e-mail today—without expecting to be repaid in kind.

My guess is that for McCain, it’s worth it. The Arizona senator has had a bumpy relationship with evangelical leaders—don’t forget his ” agents of intolerance ” quip—and he probably calculates that it’s better to have these guys on his side, controversy and all, than to lose them and their supporters. Plus, there’s a big difference between his evangelical endorsements and Wright’s proximity to Obama. (Wright married Barack and Michelle, and gave Obama the title of his second book.) If it comes down to a guilt-by-association competition, McCain probably thinks he would come out on top. Clinton should feel somewhat more comfortable denouncing Wright—Billy Graham, whatever his past statements, isn’t exactly controversy incarnate. Still, her campaign is so far withholding judgment.