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The McCain Campaign and Comebacks

In an article on MSNBC discussing how Obama is moving into some traditionally Republican territory, I found this quote:

McCain, for his part, was returning to the argument that Obama’s credentials are too thin for the White House, his campaign and the Republican National Committee releasing ads focusing on experience and judgment.

Here’s my problem with this: I’m asked to trust the running of the country to a man who can’t run a campaign. Oh, I know how the political operatives work, and I’m willing to discount some of the problems as a clash between McCain’s honorable inclinations and the demands of real life politics. But the bottom line is that a man who would be president needs to set the tone of his campaign and run it.

I’m not talking about going negative in this case, though I dislike a nasty campaign. Some negatives are quite appropriate. It is not wrong to point out where your opponent has failed, and thus how you would presumably do better. But there are false negative themes and irrelevant negative themes, and one needs to be able to tell the difference. (Note: Just because your partisan supporters think something is true, doesn’t make it true.)

But if one goes into a negative campaign, one needs at a minimum to do so competently. Just how far are we going to go? How are we going to handle the fallout if it doesn’t catch on?

After clinching the nomination, McCain had a fairly strong environmental proposal. Where did it go? The twists and turns of his campaign have been quite entertaining, but not constructive. When you swing too many different ways you don’t satisfy all the different factions; you tend rather to anger them all.

McCain wants to talk about judgment, but he doesn’t appear to have the judgment to choose a campaign focus and run with it. He should have noticed long ago that the “Obama isn’t up to the job” theme wasn’t really working all that well. Or maybe he just didn’t play it well enough. I’m not sure which. But he certainly hasn’t made it happen. And whether partisans on either side like it or not, the choice of Sarah Palin muddied the waters on the experience issue. I think the contortions of folks on both sides to try to explain how the experience issue goes their way are riotously funny. Democrats, presenting a young and relatively inexperienced candidate (something I don’t mind, by the way), should have just kept their mouths shut about Palin, and Republicans should have responded in kind.

It seems to me that McCain should have decided who he was, decided just how far he might compromise to keep the base of the Republican party, and just how far he would compromise to attract others, and then stick with that theme. I don’t know if he would win with that approach, but it’s hard to imagine him doing much worse.

Campaigning and governing may not be the same thing–indeed they are not. But keeping on message, managing a staff, setting the tone, and presenting oneself as in charge are all characteristics that are helpful to a president. McCain is arguing that he has better judgment and is a better leader, but he’s failing to demonstrate that.

I recall a baseball coach talking to my son who is a pitcher. He frequently got into a jam around the 3rd or 4th inning, but then his pitching really picked up and he would pitch his way out of the jam and look good for the rest of the game. The coach noted that being able to pitch out of a jam was a good thing, but suggested he not go to that well too often!

I think McCain has nobody but himself to blame for the position he is in now. It is not impossible for things to change, but thus far, he has displayed an almost uncanny talent for making things break the wrong way. He may be the comeback candidate, but if you try to come back from the brink too many times, you may find that it just doesn’t happen.

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