The media has written off John McCain. With national polling showing Obama comfortably in the lead, reporters have their narrative. The election night stories are probably written with only two blanks to fill in for the popular vote percentage and the electoral count.
Conservatives are likewise glum. Recriminations abound. McCain shouldn’t have chosen Sarah Palin. Or he should have used her more. He should never have brought up Bill Ayers and the other sleazy associates. Or he should have done it earlier. Current and former McCain advisers are feuding openly and on the record, suggesting some are disloyal and the others are incompetent.
The only thing which virtually all observers can agree upon: McCain needed a better-defined economic message earlier in the campaign and a less frenetic response to the financial crisis. Well, that’s all coulda, shoulda, woulda stuff now.
The question remains what, if anything, McCain can do now. It seems his task is to convince voters, millions of whom have already made up their minds to vote for his opponent, that an Obama presidency would pose grave dangers, domestic and foreign.
In this effort he has two Joes, a Nancy, and a Harry to help him.
Joe the Plumber of course has given McCain his economic message. Joe pulled back the curtain on Obama’s infatuation with a redistributionist economic policy, one which relies on high taxes and massive spending. McCain must hammer home that this is re-warmed 1960s-style liberalism and the very formula most likely to prolong our financial ills. And he would do well to explain that there’s no possible way for Obama to tax merely the “rich” and pay for all his plans. In an Obama administration, not just small businessmen, but many very middle class blue and white collar workers, are going to have their taxes raised in order pick up the tab for vast new domestic spending.
The other Joe has provided a second opening. Joe Biden declared that not only will Obama’s election invite international challenge, but that “it’s not gonna be apparent initially, it’s not gonna be apparent that we’re right.” Well, precisely. National security has been pushed to the side during the financial crisis, but McCain now must remind voters of just how dangerous a world it can be and just how problematic many of Obama’s declared positions would have been had Obama been in the Oval Office (e.g., an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, unconditional talks with Ahmadinejad, an initial reaction of moral equivalence when Russia invaded Georgia). It is not just that Biden’s comment is predictive; it is that it is descriptive of Obama’s past track record. In short, it is apparent that Obama’s gotten virtually nothing right.
Both McCain and Palin have latched onto this and continue to hammer home the point: Obama cannot be trusted as commander-in-chief. The media is not interested in covering this, of course. But the McCain-Palin ticket has learned — finally — to pound and pound away, trying to force the MSM to cover their message.
In addition to the two Joes (the Plumber and the VP), McCain is aided by Nancy the speaker and Harry the majority leader. The prospect of liberal Democratic control of both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue is only now dawning on voters. The wish list for Democrats is long and McCain would do well to spell out the particulars (e.g., elimination of union secret ballot elections, HillaryCare, repeal of the Hyde Amendment). At the very least he might share some Hillary Clinton fundraising emails which declare “there’s nothing we can’t accomplish” with Obama and a filibuster-proof Senate majority.
Now some might say that McCain has tried all this, labeling Obama’s plans socialism, dredging up Clinton’s “3 a.m.” ad, and warning about a Democratic spending spree which he — but certainly not his opponent — would restrain with the veto pen. And it is true that all of these elements, scattered here and there, have been tossed out at one time or another. So none of this is new. But it is an accurate take on Obama’s greatest liabilities. In concentrated form these issues may catch the attention of key swing voters. They therefore together provide his last and only hope to break through the media zone defense erected for Obama.
In the last days of the race McCain’s campaign must also determine the best deployment of resources. Frequent trips to Iowa and a newfound concentration on Pennsylvania have left conservatives scratching there heads. Are the public polls showing double digit leads for Obama in both states really that far off base? Why hasn’t McCain planted himself or his running mate in Colorado, or better still in Virginia, to secure those must-win states? Granted he will need a state to “make up” for a loss in a red state, but his chances of retaining those red states might be greater with the application of additional resources.
Moreover, if the McCain camp is in dire straits, they have to a degree added to their own problems with a series of ill-conceived moves. They frittered away the summer months without defining their economic message, botched the Palin roll out, and waited far too long to raise Obama’s troubling associations with a cast of sleazy characters. And when yet another distraction arises — this time Palin’s wardrobe expenses — they fail to make the most elementary effort to mount a counterattack. As to the latter, in a revealing interview Palin explained, “First, the RNC spending money on clothes. Those clothes are not my property. We had three days of using clothes that the RNC purchased. If people knew how Todd and I and our kids shop so frugally. My favorite shop is a consignment shop in Anchorage, Alaska, called Out of the Closet. And my shoe store is called Shoe Fly in Juneau, Alaska.”
Now if the explanation was that simple, why hadn’t her own campaign rose to her defense while the controversy swirled for two days? After all, it was a female staffer who bought the clothes, not the candidate who was told to report for duty appropriately attired. The hapless staffer whose actions unleashed the torrent of criticism remains silent, no doubt readying for her post-election career move. One suspects much of the McCain staff has moved on to burnish their resumes for future jobs, knowing full well she’d be a fool to hire any of them in the future.
Weekly Standard Editor Bill Kristol voiced his disgust: “They’re too busy covering their asses and making excuses for themselves and attacking each other on background to worry about either McCain or Palin — disgraceful.” Off the record, many other conservatives voice similar sentiments.
But the failings of the McCain camp extend well beyond their malpractice in handling Palin. While the McCain team might have gotten momentary satisfaction when campaign manager Steve Schmidt derided the New York Times as “150% in the tank” for Obama, they never developed a “Plan B” for getting their message out. Palin was hidden from view. McCain stopped his new media conference calls and rarely, if ever, appeared on conservative talk radio. And their spokespeople continually made gaffe after gaffe, referring to Northern Virginia most recently as “not real Virginia.” They may have succeeded in raising conservatives’ ire about the MSM, but they did little to further their own goals of explaining their policy positions and reaching out to undecided voters.
Politico detailed the open warfare among McCain staffers and summed up the sentiments of many Republicans by quoting an unnamed House Republican aide:
The staff has been remarkably undisciplined, too eager to point fingers, unable to craft any coherent long-term strategy. The handling of Palin (not her performances, but her rollout and availability) has been nothing short of political malpractice. I understand the candidate might have other opinions and might be dictating some aspects of the campaign to staff — but the lack of discipline and ability to draft and stick to a coherent message is unreal. You have half of the campaign saying Ayers is a major issue, and then the candidate out there saying he doesn’t care about a washed-up terrorist. You have McCain one day echoing Milton Friedman and the next day echoing FDR.
It is little wonder that the combination of the financial crisis and an inept campaign which lurched from stunt to stunt has left McCain trailing. Nevertheless, the notion that the race is “over” is an artificial construct, of course, by the MSM. It does become a self-fulfilling prophecy to the extent Republicans despair and fail to turn out. But, by the same token, the Democrats’ victory depends in large part on turning out irregular voters such as college students.
So both sides must reiterate a truism: the race is decided by those who show up to vote.
As for McCain, he has always relished the role of underdog and finished strongly in his political races. This time he’ll need the finish of a lifetime.