PUTTING THE SMEAR ARTIST ON THE PAYROLL…. At this point, it’s hard to imagine John McCain falling much lower than this.

Former officials of Sen. John McCain’s 2000 campaign expressed shock and disbelief Monday to learn than the GOP presidential nominee had hired South Carolina political consultant Tucker Eskew.

Eskew, along with Warren Tompkins and Neal Rhodes, were key members of then-Gov. George W. Bush’s South Carolina team during the 2000 primaries. McCain and his team long held Bush, Tompkins, Rhodes and Eskew responsible for the various smears against McCain and his family in the Palmetto state during that contentious contest.

McCain reportedly despised Eskew for his role in smearing him — McCain ally Lindsey Graham even held a press conference at the time to denounce Eskew’s tactics — and yet, now McCain has him on the payroll.

If McCain’s willing to do this to win, he’s willing to do just about anything.

Eight years ago, a senior McCain campaign advisor told ABC News’ Jake Tapper that “when the going gets tough for Governor Bush, he turns to the darker side of our party,” which included, in this case, hiring Tucker Eskew to smear John McCain.

Eight years later, I guess this means it’s McCain who is turning to the darker side of Republican politics.

When Tapper asked the McCain campaign if it had a comment about hiring one of smear artists accused of attacking the senator’s family, McCain 2008 spokesman Brian Rogers replied, “No.”

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.