Tuesday, July 10, 2007

McCain -- down, maybe out... maybe...

Slow news day in Montana, but nationally, the McCain campaign shakeup is making the headlines.

Here in Montana, Colby Natale wonders when McCain "will officially call it quits." And not a few bloggers elsewhere have assumed that the departure of his campaign manager and several other top aides was a case of rats fleeing a sinking ship.

The Washington Post has this to say, though, portraying McCain as being in control:

An angry McCain reportedly confronted Weaver and Nelson about the campaign's operations, particularly the amount of money that was being spent even when it was clear funds were tight. The final confrontation, coming after McCain returned from a visit to Iraq over the weekend, ultimately led to their departures, according to sources.

For a little more "inside baseball" view, there was this from National Review's Rich Lowry:

It probably means Rick Davis is taking over. He had run the campaign last time, but had no day-to-day responsibility this time and had been pushed upstairs. Then, John Weaver brought Terry Nelson in to run the campaign. As one strategist puts it, "They ran it into the ground." So this was a fight between Weaver and Davis that Davis won. That at least is a quick interpretation from one plugged-in Republican. I'm sure we'll hear more soon...

One thing that it does not mean, of course, is a healthy McCain campaign.

The AP article published by the Billings Gazette has this bit of optimism:

McCain's situation resembles that of John Kerry, who struggled in fundraising, languished in polls and fired top aides in late 2003. A few months later, the Massachusetts senator won the Democratic nomination.

Well, maybe. Montana Headlines has long been ambivalent about McCain. On the one hand, McCain could actually win a general election, and it would be a pretty narrow definition of conservative that would exclude John McCain.

On the other hand, his famous temper and authoritarian bent are concerning, as is his all-too-ready willingness to go his own way regardless of what anyone thinks. This can be an endearing and even bracing quality in a Senator -- in a President, though, one hopes for someone who will at least be somewhat disturbed by approval ratings in the 30's. The majority isn't right about everything, but it's pretty hard to govern when you don't care what the majority thinks about anything.

The Kerry analogy also breaks down, ultimately, because of the very different fundamentals that each candidate brought to the table.

John Kerry, at least at one point, seemed to be the least distasteful of the credible Democratic candidates (Joe Lieberman was never credible) in 2004. One could imagine him as President if you had to have a Democrat. He was a war veteran, bringing something very unique to the Democratic ticket in that regard.

Since no-one could foresee the Swiftboat Veterans campaign (only Kerry would have been in a position to know, and he was too arrogant to grasp just how angry his compatriots still were about his anti-war activities and statements,) this was a huge plus.

He had a large personal fortune (or at least his wife did,) he was someone the Democratic establishment could get behind from a policy perspective, and he didn't hold policy positions of extreme repulsiveness to center-right Republicans and independents.

By contrast, McCain's status as a veteran is not going to help him in this election, and indeed his hard-line stance on the Iraq war risks promises to alienate the center -- and increasingly even the right.

In addition, McCain has repeatedly seemed to go out of his way to alienate the GOP base and even what is left of the old GOP "establishment," through his positions on immigration and campaign-finance. Neither of this positions, furthermore, are going to make up for losses in the GOP base by attracting independents and Democrats in large numbers. The sheer antipathy to McCain among rank-and-file Republicans was already somewhat breathtaking, and his role in the immigration bill fiasco seemed to finish him off.

What does McCain have? If one combines governmental experience with a conservative track-record, then he is is the strongest of all the GOP candidates, overall. That is no small thing. And if something happens unexpected (either really good, or really bad) from a military standpoint, there is conceivably a situation in which McCain might be the "man on horseback," riding to save the day. Not that this is a particularly desirable scenario.

McCain is down, and the count has started. But it wouldn't be the first time that someone gets up before the ref gets to "10" and KO's his opponent. Any of McCain's opponents who turn their back on him, counting him out, are taking quite a risk.

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