Just two weeks ago, the Politico ran an item about the enormous confidence the Republican establishment has about John McCain’s chances in November. As the piece put it, “[M]any top GOP strategists believe he can defeat Barack Obama — and by a margin exceeding President Bush’s Electoral College victory in 2004.” In some Republican circles, the Politico’s article explained, there’s talk of a McCain “blowout.”
Two weeks later, that sense of bravado seems to be in short supply.
Bill Kristol noted in his NYT column this morning, “[A]lmost every Republican I’ve talked to is alarmed that the McCain campaign doesn’t seem up to the task of electing John McCain.”
Similarly, Tom Edsall reported in the Huffington Post on the growing sense of dread among Republican insiders.
“I think we’ve got a world of problems,” said one Republican strategist with extensive experience in presidential campaigns. He said this came home to him with a thud when he watched Obama and McCain give speeches last Tuesday, with the Democrat speaking before “20,000 screaming fans, while John McCain looked every bit of his 72 years” in a speech televised from New Orleans. [...]
Another strategist with similar presidential experience said “McCain has not claimed the maverick ground that should be his. He has not seized the mantle of ‘change’ and reform that he could own by going to Washington and saying, ‘you know me. You know I’ve been a reformer all my life. Now, here’s how I am going to change Washington if you elect me president.’ And he has not taken economic turf. He has not explained how he is going to grow, not Washington, as the Democrats plan, but this economy to meet the challenges of global competition.”
The glass-half-full take, at least for the GOP, is that this appears to be a Democratic year, and McCain is very close to Obama in national polls. The glass-half-empty approach is that McCain seems to have hit his ceiling of support, and that’s after months of scrutiny-free campaigning.
This obviously isn’t rocket science. McCain has the Republican Party in a bit of a panic, not because his poll numbers are iffy, but because he’s really not offering much as a national candidate, at least not yet. McCain offers more of the same…
Tom Mann of the Brookings Institution argues that “McCain continues to embrace Bush policies on the most important issues, relying on a reputation for independence and moderation that could be lost in the heat of battle with Obama and the Democrats…. ‘Elect me because the other guy is worse.’ Not much of an argument in the face of gale-force winds blowing against the Republican Party.”
…doesn’t offer much in the way of a vision for the future…
Arch-conservative Bay Buchanan suggested that it may not matter what McCain does. Writing in Human Events on June 4, she declared: “In reality there is only one candidate. Barack Obama. In November he will win or he will lose. John McCain is relevant only in so far as he is not Barack Obama. The Senator from Arizona is incapable of energizing his party, brings no new people to the polls, and has a personality that is best kept under wraps.”
…and when push comes to shove, McCain just isn’t a great campaigner.
For one, he’s extremely undisciplined. With virtually no pressure on him at all, he’s already offered a series of troubling gaffes. He’s also prone to — as Kaus says — “reflexive righteous blunderbuss denials” that often get him in more trouble than the original accusation. Third, he’s a horrible speaker. Finally, his fundraising operation has not only been anemic, it’s based on the models of the past.
To be sure, this doesn’t mean Obama is a lock. Far from it — he has a Democratic Party to bring back together, he has plenty of working-class whites to win over, the right-wing attack machine is just now starting to sharpen its fangs, latent racism remains an unknown factor, and there are some widely-believed-but-completely-bogus myths about him and his family that he’ll have to work to overcome.
But under the circumstances, who do you think would want to switch places with the other? McCain or Obama?