July 11, 2007

How Many Times Will McCain's Political Obituary Run?

After yesterday's exodus at Team McCain, pundits lined up declare John McCain's presidential aspirations dead, and perhaps his Senate career as well. Most of the newspapers followed suit, doing everything but have pipers sound "Amazing Grace" across the Potomac. One exception comes from the Wall Street Journal, which notes that the struggling fortunes of the campaign almost demanded a housecleaning if McCain was to remain in the race:

Yesterday's shakeup of John McCain's top campaign staff is giving the media who once loved him a chance to bury his Presidential campaign. But it's also possible the shakeup will give his candidacy another chance to connect with the priorities of GOP primary voters.

In the mainstream media telling, the decline of Mr. McCain's campaign is a modern Greek tragedy: He rose as a brave reformer who defied GOP orthodoxy, then fell as he gave up the iconoclast's mantle to court conservatives and defend the Iraq war. This is the history of a Republican campaign as told by journalists who never vote Republican. ...

Down in the polls, Mr. McCain can also afford to take a few policy risks that might cause voters to give him another look. Tax reform would be one issue on which he could break from the GOP pack, and free-market health care is one on which he could contrast with Mr. Romney's Massachusetts mandates. We hear that the staffers who departed yesterday include some who opposed bolder policy proposals. When you're the former front-runner, you have nothing to gain by playing it safe.

I've always considered McCain a long shot to win the nomination. As the WSJ notes, he's alienated almost all of the Republican factions at one time or another, whether when opposing the Bush tax cuts, championing the BCRA, or pushing comprehensive immigration reform. All of that had been known at the beginning of the primary campaign, though, and McCain started off at a surprising strong second place, which he maintained until just the last few weeks. He has not done anything that reversed any of his previous policy stands -- and therefore the campaign itself has to be the big problem.

That's why a big shakeup doesn't represent the "wheels falling off" that other pundits have insisted. The wheels already started to come off, and McCain wants to put them back on to move in a different direction. The earlier layoffs came from a simple lack of funds, but these departures speak directly to direction and strategy, the two failures of the 2008 campaign.

What went wrong? The man who played Maverick suddenly got a bad case of Ivory Tower. McCain does best when he avoids the sound bite and plays directly to the people. When he holds town halls, voters respond to him. Instead of pursuing that strategy, his campaign placed him behind velvet ropes.

Here's one example from New Hampshire, where McCain has tremendous popularity. The campaign started heavily vetting those voters invited to ride along with McCain on the bus, which reflected a big message-control push that conflicts with the "Straight Talk" approach favored by McCain. It was also completely unnecessary, as McCain knows almost everyone active in politics there. It is symptomatic of his campaign team's effort to put space between McCain and the voters, which was exactly the wrong strategy for McCain.

McCain's decision to clear the decks will put him squarely in command of his campaign. That may not be a great development; seasoned activists know that a campaign does best when a dispassionate analyst runs the ship. However, McCain knows now that he needs to reconnect with voters, get back to taking risks, and demonstrating the kind of joy he did in 2000.

From this point, expect less handling, more direct engagement with ordinary voters, and a return of outspokenness and, yes, the Maverick. McCain didn't go through the pain of this housekeeping to quit next week. He's still tied for third in the national polls and able to raise over $11 million in a quarter when his immigration bill stoked rage throughout the base. Those who keep writing his political obituaries will have to explain how a dead man can do all of that and still keep campaigning. In this field, anything can happen.


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Comments (16)

Posted by docjim505 | July 11, 2007 11:57 AM

I think that the McCain candidacy is essentially a creation of hte media (much like Obama's). The MSM makes similar noises about a Hagel candidacy. My guess is that the only people who want to see McCain on the GOP ticket are McCain and the Beltway pundits, who regard him as one of the "good" Republicans.

Would I vote for McCain? Never this side of hell.

Posted by Fred | July 11, 2007 12:01 PM

McCain's last straw was his pro-shamesty position. That's what led to the collapse of his support among Republicans. As he's running in the REPUBLICAN primary it is the end of his campaign. Of course, he could run for the presidency as an independent but who would vote for him, beyond a smattering of conservative leaning moderates who like an undependable maverick, who is sure to enrage them when it counts.

Posted by Carol Herman | July 11, 2007 12:16 PM

Oh, about as often as Immigration BIll's.

Besides, you don't see the real John McCain until he's angry. Soon enough this, too, will appear.

Gee, it's also possible that McCain is now as radioactive as Teddy Kennedy? Probably "persona non-grata" among his former friends at the White House. And, the Schumer's.

Anyway, Ron Paul is holding last place. And, McCain wants a few other turkeyrs to go to the slaugher, first. He still has his double-talk express. And, he fills it with his own gas every morning.

We could take bets to see if he ends up in a cabinet chair, later on? I'm betting "Doubt It." But you're free to choose.

While Drudge is having just as much fun with Cindy Sheehan's challenge to pelosi. RIIGHT. We're really getting news, now, that comes with guts, spread on the table. I didn't realize Chertoff looks like a chicken. As long as you have Barbara Bush's nose Dubya hires ya?

Posted by Corky Boyd | July 11, 2007 12:24 PM

McCains fundraisling fell flat for the second quarter and my guess is it probably all but dried up in the last 4 weeks. Reason: The overwhelming feeling of betrayel by many Republicans on the immigration issue.

This issue will have serious long term effects on Republican fund raising. No longer will I, nor many others support the RNC when funds would go to Graham, Martinez, McCain or others who were selling us out. The RNC was in the middle of a Congressional fund raising campain at the height of the immigration debate. Many sent the request back with NO written on it. Some asked for their past contributions returned and got them. Fundraisers don't keep their contracts when they go negative.

While McCain's stand was well known, the scheming in the Senate, the vitriolic reaction of the Frists that those who opposed the bill were bigots, the obtuseness of plunging ahead in the face of the most intense public opposition to a bill I have seen, ever, has and will hurt all Republican fundraising.

McCain's problems were just the first to show.

Posted by I R A Darth Aggie | July 11, 2007 12:44 PM

In addition to the other negatives for McCain, he was also the ringleader for the Gang of Fourteen, who obstructed Presidential court appointments.

And with a little luck, he'll blow his top if he encounters a good conservative challenging him on McCain-Fiengold, McCain-Kennedy and his leadership of the Gang of Fourteen.

If I where one of his primary opponents, I'd certainly goad him over these issues. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to
irritate him.

Posted by Adjoran | July 11, 2007 1:00 PM

The McCain campaign is hinting they may accept federal matching funds, a sure sign their fundraising is in the tank. Among the departed is the new fundraising chief, hired shortly after the lackluster 1st quarter numbers were posted - which she failed to beat.

Reminds me of the old advertising story: a company comes out with a new canned dog food, spends $10 million on advertising, and finds sales slump badly after an initial spike. So they pump another $10 million into marketing, with coupons and rebates and store displays, but after another brief spike sales are again in the tank.

Finally, they hire a consultant for $500,000 to figure out the problem. He presents his one page report on why their new dog food isn't selling well: "Dogs don't like it."

Immigration or not, you can't sell the author of BCFRA and the "Gang of 14" (not to mention the many insults to conservatives over the years) to the Republican base no matter how you package him.

Posted by ddh | July 11, 2007 1:18 PM

A good post, Cap'n. McCain needed to change direction to have even a chance of winning the nomination. I remember the pundits writing off Reagan's chances after he fired Stephen Sears as campaign manager at the beginning of the campaign for the 1980 nomination. Now McCain has changed direction, we'll see if he gets another chance.

Posted by Tom Grey - Liberty Dad | July 11, 2007 1:31 PM

McCain won't win the primary nomination -- but he has to change something to even have a chance or be seen to have a chance.

He can still connect with voters, and even get the respect of those who disagree with him on immigration -- if he pushes building the fence, and enforcement of current laws...

He's got a BETTER shot, if he's not one of the top two -- let Rudy & Mitt get most of the pre-primary heat.

Whoever leads before the primaries is unlikely to win. Unless this election is really "a whole new ballgame". Which it might be.

Plus, McCain CAN be the STRONGEST on Iraq. Which is the single biggest, most important, real issue.

Posted by the fly-man | July 11, 2007 1:36 PM

Didn't senator Kerry have some what of the same situation and still wind up with the nomination? Aren't the Republicans going to have to blame the loss of the White House on someone? Think about it, the glaring difference between the Sen. Mc Cain and his rivals is his unbridled support which parallels President Kooties. I'd use the term tar baby but that upsets some folks. He will prove very useful to the GOP if they head into Jan. and look like they're going to lose the election in the fall of 08. Hasn't the GOP pretty much avoided association with the President? Write the White House off and go for both the House and the Senate.

Posted by Carol Herman | July 11, 2007 3:50 PM

John Kerry was about the worst mistake the Bonkeys made in 2204. They'd have been better off with Howie Dean; who at least found love in the base.

As to what's ahead? Who know?

I find it interesting that Fred Thompson has again postponed his "coming out" date;

And, I'm more and more impressed with Guiliani, who, so far, has added Ted Olsen to his team. And, a very FORCEFUL team on Military DEFENSE. He's taken a stick, as a matter of fact, and poked the musselmen with it. So, they too, will flair up in arms.

Someday? People will notice that crowds go for rioting antics, which last all of about 3 days. Sometimes, it dies down on its own. And, is let to blow off, like the Rodney King stuff back in 1991. OR? Like Musharraf, who didn't like his plane shot at from the roof of the Red Mosque, nearby his palace, took out the problem; not just one infected tooth.

Part of our problems rests with Dubya. And, the kinds of people who surround him. He seems to be surrounded by second-raters. Though Tony Show finally came on board after Ari Fleischer turned out to be a turn coat.

Still Bush hires the worst crap.

Guiliani's skill? I think similar to Lincoln's. Certainly, in 1860, there was no indicationg Lincoln would get the nomination. There were 3 others, way more "favorite" to their own clicks, than Lincoln was.

But a taste of desperation had entered politics. The WHIGS were dead. And, there were people devoted to picking a winning candidate so they could stay in politics.

The Bonkeys will probably make things easier. Given that we're watching polarization at its finest.

Posted by pilsener | July 11, 2007 4:40 PM

Does ANYONE who reads this blog seriously believe that McCain can win the Republican nomination for President???

NO! Then why the mental masturbation over the horse-race?

McCain had "almost no chance" to win when he started this campaign. Immigration reform sealed his fate with the Republican base. He now has "no chance". In which case, his continued participation is totally academic, unless he decides to go on the attack, and stay on the attack, against Democratic candidates and the Democratic party. Even then, I'm not sure he could win the Republican nomination.

Posted by GAC | July 11, 2007 8:32 PM

I'm not a McCain fan, but one thing that confuses me is that the media declared him dead because he only raised 11 Mil last quarter. John Edwards raised 2 million less but remains a top tier candidate?

Posted by Mantic Pundit | July 11, 2007 10:43 PM

I read the WSJ McCain campaign obituary. Amazingly enough, the WSJ DID NOT MENTION the effects of McCain's suicidal sponsorship of the 'immigration reform bill' on the Republican base.

I would say that at least 50% of McCain's eroding support was because of his immigration stand. Funny, the WSJ is silent on that. Could it be that their support of the bill is the reason????

Posted by dave rywall | July 11, 2007 10:47 PM

Sure doesn't help when your potential campaign co-chair gets arrested for offering to give a bl*j*b to a cop:


"Florida Rep. Robert "Bob" Allen, R-Merritt Island, was arrested this afternoon at Veteran's Memorial Park on East Broad Street for solicitation for prostitution.

He is currently being booked into Brevard County Jail in Sharpes. The charge is a second-degree misdemeanor, according to police.


According to police, the park was under surveillance today by a detail of undercover Titusville Police officers. Officers noticed Allen acting suspicious as he went in and out of the men’s restroom three times. Minutes later, he solicited an undercover male officer inside the restroom, offering to perform oral sex for $20.

Officers realized he was a public figure after the arrest.

Allen, as he was taken out of the Titusville Police Department to be transported to Sharpes, called the situation "a very big misunderstanding," in comments to WFTV Channel 9."


Posted by Steve | July 11, 2007 11:25 PM

While I do not agree with Mr. McCain on several issues, I donated to his campaign today. He knows full well that his position on Iraq hurts hi m with many voters yet he has made it plain this issue is bigger than solely pursueing victory. This, to me demonstrates true integrity and isn't that what we voters endlessly complain that our elected officials lack? I don't know if I will vote for Mr. McCain but I will have to think hard not to. Whatever you ,ay think about his position on a particular issue, the man has spine.

Posted by sherlock | July 12, 2007 7:30 AM

"Whatever you ,ay think about his position on a particular issue, the man has spine."

Yes, Steve, he does. Unfortunately, the organ that is located at the top end of his spine seems to suffer from serious malfunctions from time to time.

Seriously, I think he was brain-damaged during his stay at the Hanoi Hilton, and for that I pity him, and feel humbled by his bravery.

But I don't want him to be President, because he is too erratic, both politically and emotionally.