There’s little doubt among conservatives and progressives alike that the McCain campaign is in trouble. Despite (or because of?) a near-constant barrage of negative ads and rallies that dangerously fan the flame of ignorance and hostility, McCain and Palin‘s favorables keep plunging, particularly among those independents whose votes they’re so desperate to win. Hopefully, the Hate Talk Express won’t be stopping at the White House.
We’ve already witnessed a series of poorly executed Hail Marys from McCain, so we can probably expect at least one more desperate play before the final whistle. It’s anybody’s guess what form this stunt will take, but there are some clues. As a visual, enjoy the McCain Stunt Assesment Meter, courtesy Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight:
If you read talking asshole William Kristol‘s Op-Ed in yesterday’s Times, you have some idea of the growing call for McCain to "reclaim" his campaign. Kristol — who hasn’t been right about a single thing since this political season began two years ago — advocates for a total housecleaning: fire the campaign manager, ditch the surrogates and pull all the negative ads, because they’re not working anyway. (Never mind that Kristol previously endorsed a smear blitz spearheaded by Palin.)
Then there’s the suggestion that McCain should introduce a bold policy proposal, preferably having to do with the economy. This is risky, considering his last scheme for the government to buy up bad mortgages to cut homeowners’ monthly payments was met by skepticism (and even outright ridicule) by a majority of his own party.
McCain seemed ready to offer another proposition, even hinting to Politico that it might happen at some point today. "The economy has hurt us a little bit in the last week or two," he revealed with customary insight.
But campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds put the kibosh on that idea, saying they had no plan to get back in the econ game, at least not with anything new. "We do not have any immediate plans to announce any policy proposals outside of the proposals that John McCain has announced, and the certain proposals that would result as economic news continues to come our way," Bounds said.
Meanwhile, McCain is still trying (and failing) to make the connection between Iraq and 9/11, but this hardly seems like a sound stratagem.
Still, McCain claims they’ve got Obama "right where we want him," and claims he’ll "whip" Obama’s "you-know-what" at Wednesday’s final Presidential debate. Memo to John: "whip" may not be the choicest word to use when talking about your African-American opponent.
So what’s the game-changer? Can McCain turn his ailing campaign around by firing his Rovian stooges and putting the pitbull with lipstick on a leash? It might make him feel better, but there’s little reason to believe it will significantly change outcomes.
Not long ago, I predicted a tightening of the race as we edge closer to E-day. This may still happen, but it probably won’t have anything to do with McCain’s efforts. Obama and Axelrod have successfully painted McCain as erratic — any "surprise" tactic (short of booting Palin off the ticket) is bound to be viewed as eleventh-hour desperation. If he purges his campaign staff in order to reclaim his Maverick™ mantle, it will only raise questions about his judgement. Why did he hire these people in the first place? Why did he stand aside as they interjected so much venom into the campaign? Why did he wait until now to do something about it?
Republicans should be concerned about the hardening of Obama’s double-digit lead, but there are still three weeks left before America goes to the polls, and a lot could happen in that time.
The markets seem to be rebounding, but this is a result of responsible and swift international intervention — there’s no real way for McCain (or Obama) to claim credit. Voters are still spooked, and the Dow could again stumble at any given moment.
Ever since 2004, progressives have been worried about an "October Surprise" in the form of a Bin Laden kill or capture. This certainly would eat up the entire news cycle for at least a month, but it might not boost McCain’s fortunes. With the b0ogeyman cleared from the closet, Americans would feel more secure than ever about terrorism — why elect a jittery warmonger who says he "knows how to get Bin Laden?" Problem solved, old dude.
It’s getting more and more difficult to conceive of a path to victory for McCain. His ticket is forced to compete in states Bush won handily, they’re hopelessly outmatched in their ground game and, rumor has it, remaining RNC cash will be diverted from McCain’s coffers to help save GOP Congressional seats. Downticket ads are avoiding any mention of McCain or Bush, and some are even invoking Obama in a positive way. "Voting for Obama? Olympia needs change, too. Vote Dino Rossi," states one such Repub TV spot.
At least there’s still the Bristol Palin–Levi Johnston wedding. That’s something for conservatives to look forward to, right? Right?