John McCain is not politically dead — yet.
Shockingly, after the worst month of financial news in a generation, his frenetic and ineffectual response to the crisis, and two indecisive debates, he is within mid-single digits according to the RealClearPolitics poll average. It seems almost unbelievable that his candidacy would still be viable, and yet it is.
So how should he spend the last four weeks of his campaign if he wants to stage the most remarkable comeback in presidential politics?
First, he needs to articulate in clear and simple terms why his economic plan — and he does have one — holds out the hope for financial recovery while Barack Obama’s does not. His best chance is to make the case in the final debate, but he must, in every appearance and every interview, hammer home a central theme: Obama’s plan of higher taxes and trade protectionism is Hooverism; his of lower taxes, free trade, and energy independence is Reaganism. The Fed and central banks around the world are throwing business a life preserver with interest rate cuts, additional lending, and debt relief, and Obama is throwing an anchor with high taxes and the promise of more burdens on business, with items like a health care mandate.
Second, Barack Obama’s associations with a hodgepodge of left-leaning and corrupt cronies from Chicago — Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, Larry Walsh, Tony Rezko, Rashid Khalidi, Reverend Wright, and Father Pfleger, to name a few — are important. Why? Because they show he either suffers from an appalling lack of judgment or a broken moral compass. And he lied to the American people about these relationships, seeking to minimize or obfuscate his all-too-recent identification with and participation in a circle of radicals who now have proven to be embarrassing.
Moreover, once in public office Obama used his power — primarily the power of the purse — to reward his friends and comrades with pork-barrel projects and earmarks. In short, he is precisely the wrong person to drain the swamp of corruption and insider self-dealing in Washington.
Third, we can’t afford to have a Democratic Congress and Barack Obama at the same time. There will be no stopping them from enacting the most extreme elements of the special-interest group agenda of the Democratic Party. Dispensing with union secret ballot elections? Yup. Repeal the ban on partial-birth abortion and the Hyde Amendment? Sure. Trillions in new domestic spending? You bet. If ever there were the time for divided government and a forced cooperation of reasonable minds in the center of the political spectrum, the time is now.
Fourth, none of the world’s bullies and dictators — Putin, Castro, and Ahmadinejad, to name a few — will respect, let alone fear, Obama. Instead, they will suspect they can bully, bluster, and go on the offensive without much concern that Obama will use whatever means necessary, including force, to restrain their ambitions. We will be in for a period of never-ending challenge and testing as the rogue states manipulate the propaganda forums the new president will so generously offer. And Obama will no doubt provide encouragement by, for example, showing little interest in cementing our gains in Iraq or in enforcing the verification requirements for North Korea supposedly put in place at the six-party talks. The result: an Obama presidency means a more destabilized and dangerous world.
Fifth, McCain is the only candidate who will pursue seriously domestic oil and gas development. Obama continues to deride the idea and when the pressure of an election is removed he in all likelihood will promptly capitulate to the extreme environmental and no-growth wing of the Democratic Party. If Americans think it is better for the foreseeable future to rely almost entirely on foreign oil production, Obama is the candidate for them. If they want a serious attempt to finally open up domestic energy reserves — and also get nuclear power production on track — McCain is the better bet.
Sixth, McCain is the only alternative to excessive, blinding partisanship which grips Washington. Obama learned in Chicago to put party above country and self above all else. When he went to Washington he continued his robotic devotion to Democratic orthodoxy — voting the straight party line, looking the other way as his colleagues ran interference for failing Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and never championing a single piece of legislation that bothered a single Democratic constituency. McCain is the opposite: on immigration, torture, global warming, campaign finance reform, spending, and the surge he annoyed, opposed, and decried his own party’s leadership. It is inconceivable to think either candidate would reverse a lifetime of political habits.
Aside from all of the arguments, likely well known to every McCain senior advisor and staffer, the great challenge for McCain is to say these things forcefully and in the only setting where everyone will make one final gut check: the last presidential debate. Whatever the question is in that final meeting his answer should be one of the six arguments above. Every moment spent on bear DNA or rules of hot pursuit for Pakistan is time wasted. There is nothing unseemly or inappropriate about any of these lines of argument, yet McCain often seems unwilling or unable to make them in a sustained way. He needs to get over it.
Is this all too late? Of course not. Voters get the final say in every election and McCain has powerful lines of attack and compelling reasons for his own candidacy. Now is the time to make his case.
Coming Next: Advice for Barack Obama on securing a win