MCCAIN CAMPAIGN RATTLED BY AL QAEDA ADMISSION…. Following up on an earlier item, al Qaeda supporters reportedly stated their support for a McCain victory on a password-protected website. The group apparently prefers the candidate who’ll keep pursuing Bush administration policies. This is, obviously, an unwelcome development for the McCain campaign.

The smart move for the McCain campaign would have been to ignore the al Qaeda message. Obama was unlikely to push it, and media attention on the story this morning was sporadic. But perhaps concerned that voters might take this seriously, and realize that McCain’s policies complement al Qaeda’s agenda, the McCain campaign scrambled this afternoon and hosted a “panicked” conference call.

McCain’s senior foreign policy adviser, Randy Scheunemann made two predictable points. First, al Qaeda’s message shouldn’t be taken at face value. Second, quotes from Hamas and Iran that seem sympathetic to Obama must be taken at face value.

A reporter noted the contradiction.

One especially fun moment on the call came when McCain adviser Jim Woolsey badly undercut the campaign call’s message. Woolsey said that Al Qaeda supporters who praise McCain are actually doing it to hurt him, because praise from Al Qaeda is the “kiss of death.”

At that point, a reporter quite naturally asked whether the same could be said of Hamas advisers who praise Obama, prompting Woolsey to pull a homina homina homina and dodge the question.

Look, this isn’t complicated. It isn’t even new — Richard Clarke, Ron Suskind, and others have written quite a bit on the fact al Qaeda prefers Bush’s foreign policy — it helps with terrorist recruiting and fundraising, undermines America’s global stature, and costs us a fortune — so it stands to reason that the terrorist network would support McCain, since his foreign policy is largely indistinguishable. The smart move for the McCain campaign is drawing attention away from this fact, not towards it.

What’s more, if al Qaeda really wanted to play some kind of reverse-psychology game here, it probably wouldn’t have posted a message to a website closely linked to the terrorist group, in Arabic, on a page accessible by a password. Indeed, if the situation were reversed, and that same page had expressed support for Obama, every Republican in America would be screaming hysterically right now.

But what seems clear is that Republicans are stuck in a trap of their own making. Bush, Cheney, McCain, and other leading Republicans have argued for years that we must take the terrorists’ words seriously and accepted at face value. Today, they’re arguing the polar opposite.

The truth is, it’s foolish to try to vote with terrorists’ motivations in mind. But therein lies the point — Republicans have said we must vote with terrorists’ motivations in mind. And as of this morning, that’s no longer a maxim they find helpful.

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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.