In American politics, it’s never too early for a post-mortem-even when the body is still alive and kicking. And with a little less than a week left in the presidential marathon, the increasingly corpse-like John McCain has already been laid out on the autopsy table.
Morale is said to be low at campaign headquarters, with top advisors concerned primarily with sidestepping the blame for the presumed impending defeat. This early round of the blame game is yet another example of the lack of discipline that has characterized McCain’s campaign.
It is no surprise that the mood inside a campaign down seven points nationally and outflanked in almost every swing state-a campaign forced to spend furiously in defense of states they didn’t even think would be in play-is acrimonious. But it’s laughable that the McCain brain trust can’t even bicker quietly enough to avoid handing the Democrats yet another advantage.
A sinking-ship mentality will only hurt Republican voter turnout, something the party can ill afford.
In presidential politics, the party’s standard-bearer has obligations beyond his own campaign. He’s at the top of a ticket that also includes candidates for the Senate, for the House of Representatives, for state and local office. His turnout is their turnout. And his money is their money-the portion of it that comes from the party, anyway.
When Bob Dole realized he wasn’t going to unseat Bill Clinton in 1996, he diverted resources from his campaign to those of others running for office. Dole lost, but the Republicans picked up two seats in the Senate, and managed to retain a majority in the House.
The “Country First” candidate, on the other hand, doesn’t even appear to be putting his party ahead of himself. McCain’s only “October surprise” has been to veer even further off-message, blitzing Obama with as many as twelve simultaneous lines of attack in a desperate attempt to find one that sticks-from breathless accusations of “socialism” to recycled efforts to link him to Bill Ayers.
It’s as if nobody at McCain headquarters reads the polls: even as voters recoiled from negative tactics and demanded economic solutions, McCain amped up his attacks. As Obama’s team demonstrated its mastery of the electoral playing field by exploiting early voting and forcing McCain to spend heavily in states once considered safely red, the GOP candidate pulled his ads in swing states like Colorado and Nevada-all but conceding them.
And he let the media pick up on it, further dampening Republican spirits.
Looking back over the McCain campaign, one gets the feeling that the last words spoken at the conference table before each major decision were “f*@$ it, whatever,” uttered in the tone of a desperate gambler going all-in on a risky bet.
Should we go with Sarah Palin, despite her extremist views, lack of qualifications, ongoing criminal investigation and lack of vetting? Might be a game-changer… “f*@$ it, whatever.” How about we respond to the financial crisis by suspending the campaign? Could that work? “I dunno.. f*@$ it, whatever.”
Even in a divided nation beset by financial woe, it is uplifting to consider that, at long last, someone seems to have failed by overestimating the stupidity of the American public.
This time around, political smokescreens and stagey diversions have not worked.
Let us hope that it is not just McCain’s campaign that we can begin to autopsy on November 5th, but such tactics themselves.