The normally astute Ross Douthat is mistaken when he argues that McCain may have already reached his peak.
His argument is that, at a moment of Democratic confusion, McCain’s poll numbers and fundraising aren’t particularly impressive. What is he going to do, Douthat asks, when the Democrats finally get their act together and unite behind a single candidate?
The obvious answer — and the one Douthat never considers — is that McCain will go negative. Not in the usual, Willie Horton way that the press usually interprets negative campaigning. But McCain will do everything he
can to denigrate the accomplishments and ideas of his opponents and critics. That is essentially what he has done most of his political life — and it has usually worked quite well. The nice McCain, the prisoner of war McCain,
the straight talk McCain, the “third-way” McCain was something the press fawned over in 2000. But that narrative has worn out its welcome. That’s why his recent “biography tour” failed to move the needle.
What McCain needs is an enemy, in either the form of Obama or Hillary. In all his recent Senate battles, he has positioned himself in opposition to someone or something. He’ll do it again in the fall, even as he swears he
won’t run negative ads. He will also unleash the snarl, the caustic dismissals of his opponents experience, and an ad campaign that will directly question the Democratic nominee’s fitness for office. This is how the race will get exciting — and how enthusiasm for McCain might return.