In an August 3 discussion with HBO Real Time with Bill Maher host Bill Maher, MSNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews revived a much-repeated myth that the Spanish electorate decided to vote out the Populist Party in response to the Madrid train bombings in March.
Matthews described the rationale of Spanish voters as follows: "We'll bounce this current government because we're hit"; he suggested that terrorists might try to replicate their alleged success in Spain by attacking the United States just before the November election in the hope that the electorate would vote out President George W. Bush. But Matthews said Americans would have the "opposite" reaction to such an attack and would choose to "support the incumbent president."
From the August 3 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews:
MATTHEWS: If we face a terrorist strike before the election, say the week before, won't that -- it will cause us all to root for the unity of the country and to support the incumbent president, won't it?
MAHER: Well, I mean, first of all...
MATTHEWS: In other words, it is going to be the ironic thing that if the bad guys -- and they are bad if they attack us, obviously.
MATTHEWS: Think that we're like Spain, and that will take them over the edge. We'll bounce this current government because we're hit. Americans are the opposite. We'll say, screw you. We're keeping this guy, right?
As Media Matters for America has noted, this is not the first time Matthews has suggested that Al Qaeda would prefer Senator John Kerry (D-MA) to win in November. On July 8, Matthews asked Senator John Breaux (D-LA) if Al Qaeda was "trying to get people to vote Democrat for president." Nor is Matthews the first to advance the speculation that the terrorists might attack the United States in order to affect the November election in favor of Kerry, as Media Matters for America has also noted.
As MMFA has previously noted, this speculation rests on the assumption that the March attack in Madrid in fact brought about the ouster of pro-Bush, Iraq war supporter Prime Minister José María Aznar, who lost to Socialist Party challenger Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero the week after the terrorist attack. But, as MMFA demonstrated, this assumption is dubious, notwithstanding its widespread acceptance by Bush administration officials and numerous mainstream media outlets. Regardless of the attack, the election would have been very close, with 90 percent of Spaniards opposing the war in Iraq, and with the European edition of Time magazine indicating that the election was a "dead heat" hours before the attack occurred. Other evidence suggests that the terrorist attacks may have had some effect on the outcome of the election -- but only indirectly and not in the manner that the terrorists purportedly intended. After the bombings, the Populist Party was greatly weakened by public accusations of a cover-up when Aznar and his government sought to blame the attack on regional Basque separatists, even after evidence of Al Qaeda's connection to the attacks surfaced.