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Don’t Make It Worse Than It Is

This account of disgruntled Republicans, largely unsourced, and this direct criticism center on the same phenomenon: conservatives are dismayed that McCain must zig-zag between the Right and the center. Well, this is a general election and of all the criticisms to be leveled at McCain’s effort this is not the one upon which I would necessarily identify as the most dire from the standpoint of electability. This, after all, is who McCain is — a not very doctrinaire conservative. You can make the argument that his ability to connect with independents not normally part of the Republican base is actually a strength, not a weakness. (And whatever maneuvers he has had to make have been downright adept compared to the hash Obama has made of the similar challenge coming from the left.)

For a campaign that was supposed to have been blown out by now, the McCain team might rightly point to their (closer than expected) poll numbers and claim that a major reassessment is not really required. That said, there are a few substantial deficiencies that McCain could spend some time addressing.

First, he needs an economic message that does not begin with the phrase “retain the Bush tax cuts.” Simplification, reform or a new McCain tax policy would be preferable than simply repeating the cornerstone of the economic plan of the president from whom he is trying to distance himself. Indeed the overarching reform message which might offer some promise has never really been fleshed out.

Second, there is something lacking in the McCain camp’s ability to drive and sustain a message over a period of more than a day or so. They can whine all they would like about liberal media bias, but they rarely penetrate the din, their surrogates are not the sharpest (Joe Lieberman and Randy Scheunemann the clear exceptions) and they operate on a level of generality (“Obama would put us on the defensive on the war on terror”) which is easily swatted away by the opposing camp. This is a strategic or tactical problem, not in my view, an ideological one as some in the conservative base suggest.

Finally, the McCain campaign really has not put all the pieces of stray criticisms of Obama together to significantly undermine his New Politics message. The guy with the martini at the country club isn’t it. (Hint: Republicans should stay away from country club analogies.) They need to do some serious work explaining to voters why it is that the promise of New Politics is belied by Obama’s own record and the conduct of his campaign. (Maybe Chuck Todd could do their campaign ads.)

It is early in the race and perhaps the McCain camp is more aware of these problems than they let on. But turning McCain into something that he is not — the darling of the conservative base — is a poor idea and destined to make these problems pale by comparison. After all, isn’t Obama’s major problem that he is losing his political soul or “brand“?


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