[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/08/art.mccain.palin.jpg]Robert Shrum
The season of Republican recrimination has dawned. The favorite rationalization for the candidate’s drift toward double digit deficits in the polls seems to be that the smears against Obama came too late and looked too desperate. If only McCain had descended into the mire months ago—things might have been different. There is no evidence, of course, that the old Rovian road, no matter when taken, would have led back to the White House in 2008. In serious times, assaults on Ayers and ACORN seem frivolous; and appeals to fear and intolerance don’t win votes, they merely stoke hate and incite right-wing believers.
New York Times columnist William Kristol, who once recommended war on Obama’s character, now urges McCain to “fire the campaign” that followed Kristol’s advice. But mixed messages are the essence of McCain’s exertions. The candidate suffers grievously from a dual sense—first that he has no credible plan to deal with the economic issues he’s said he doesn’t understand and, second, that he’s not steady, but erratic, irascible, lurching from position to position as he wanders around the stage.
Unmoored from strategic coherence, the candidate and his advisors jump from tactic to tactic searching compulsively for the latest trick. This is the driving force behind the campaign’s biggest mistake: selecting the unvetted, unserious Sarah Palin as a running mate. The hasty turn to Palin was based on a series of off-the-cuff assumptions—that she could attract Hillary voters, appeal to women generally, and substitute for the unacceptably pro-choice Joe Lieberman as a way to restore McCain’s brand as a maverick. The aim of this Hail Mary pass was somehow to switch the playing field from the economy to earmarks.
The calculation was wrong on every count.
Editor's Note: Robert Shrum was the senior adviser to the Gore 2000 presidential campaign, the campaign of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and the British Labour Party, as well as the chief strategist for the 2004 Kerry-Edwards campaign.
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