Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Finally, Other People Realize What We've Known About John McCain

I feel lucky I got the McCain's-downward-spiral column into the paper Sunday; from the looks of today's stories this might be old news by this coming weekend. At least "my" newspaper didn't pay to send a reporter around full-time with the McCain campaign; talk about an investment that didn't pan out.

East Valley Tribune, July 8, 2007

Even with ‘wingers with whom I disagree about every single issue, I find that deep down, we’re united on one fundamental Arizona value: Disliking John McCain.

We’re all enjoying schadenfreude over McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign. He’s bringing us together, by losing.

McCain’s campaign is failing because he’s using President Bush’s strategy for the Iraq war, and getting the same results. There was the shock-and-awe, "mission accomplished" phase, where McCain garnered numerous Bush campaign consultants and fundraisers. Armed with national name recognition and years of relentless toadying to Bush and the religious right, like his endorsement of teaching creationism, McCain claimed to be the national frontrunner.

McCain, pundits said, looked uncomfortable but was doing what was necessary to cement support by the GOP business and religious establishments. McCain then dropped out of the Iowa straw poll; candidates spend millions ferrying supporters to a state GOP fundraiser in an effort to demonstrate their ability to do something completely meaningless, which is good practice for the Iowa caucus. McCain felt he could downplay Iowa and risk angering state GOP bigwigs, because he was running nationally and could avoid a spending war with Mitt Romney on bad terrain.

But that plan was based on "faulty intelligence." Despite touching all the hardliner bases, GOP partisans never knew whether they were getting the "Establishment McCain" or the "Maverick" who had so entranced the national media. And the immigration bill certainly didn’t help; GOP voters want amnesty reserved for Scooter Libby, not illegal aliens.

At the end of March, when fundraising totals came out, McCain finished third, well behind Romney and Rudy Giuliani. But not only was he lagging in dollars raised, but his spending (his "burn rate") left him with fewer resources than his rivals.

The campaign, like the Bush administration after the 2006 elections, announced a new strategy and leadership team. Just as Bush let Rumsfeld go, McCain fired his finance director and brought in a "new" team -- to the extent that Fred Malek and Phil Gramm can be "new." They promised new accountability, new tactics, and better results.

The results were announced last week, and just as with Bush, the promises were empty. Instead of surpassing their prior dreary performance, the McCain campaign did worse despite a massive ramp-up of fundraising events, supposedly 35 in one month alone. Their "burn rate" stayed high, and they finished the quarter with only $2 million left. The campaign fired dozens of staffers, put others on reduced or no salary, and announced a new strategy. Instead of competing nationally, McCain would concentrate on three early primary states -- the campaign equivalent of "the surge."

The campaign announced that McCain will do more town halls, retail politics, being unscripted. Of course, those exact tactics also were part of the first restructuring, and talk of "refocusing the campaign to play to his strengths" leaves open the question of why the previous plans were unfocused, diffuse efforts that highlighted the candidate’s weaknesses. "New" plans drawn up by the same leaders; how much more like Bush can you get?

McCain now depends on doing well in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, a strategy that Ryan Sager of The New York Sun calls "utterly wrongheaded." McCain downplayed Iowa, and now will have to make up ground on both Romney and Giuliani and, once he gets into the race, Fred Thompson. He’s tied for second, with Giuliani, behind Romney in New Hampshire, and he’s sinking in South Carolina, where his campaign foundered in 2000 and where he could finish fourth as well.

It’s just like the surge in Iraq. It sounds OK, but only if you ignore prior history, know nothing about conditions on the ground, and assume that the same people doing the same things will somehow yield different results. Look at how far "Maverick McCain" has fallen from 2000: He’s become George W. Bush.

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