Can McCain Come Back Again?

Friday, October 17, 2008 at 6:00 am

The self-rescue effort has begun. (flickr)

There are 18 days until the end of Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign. Having begun this campaign as the clear front-runner — not only for the Republican nomination but for the presidency — and as the supposedly moderate force who could bring order to Washington, the Arizona senator finds himself the odd man out. He is out of time and out of step, a figure paralyzed by the events around him.

It’s hard to imagine that when September began, the American people viewed McCain as an experienced leader, the steady hand. People knew what they had in him.

With three presidential debates and “Joe the Plumber” behind him, McCain is in a spot that seemed unimaginable only weeks ago. Down by as many as 14 percentage points in the most recent New York Times-CBS News poll to “that one,” otherwise known as Sen. Barack Obama, McCain, who has resurrected his political career from near-ruin before, must somehow pull off his best rescue operation yet. He must do what many deem impossible — become the person who will right the nation’s economic fortunes and the leader who will save us from our failings, financial and otherwise.

“John McCain does best when he proposes ideas that don’t seem like Republican or Democratic ideas, but they’re the right ideas in simple terms,” said Leslie Sanchez, a GOP strategist and former Bush administration adviser. “If he can continue to move forward in a simple way that’s bipartisan even to the point where Barack Obama says, ‘I agree with that too,’ that’s the right kind of momentum. It shows him taking command of the issues. The complexities of these economic plans are lost on many of these voters. That’s when they look for character. That’s when they ask, ‘Can he be bipartisan? Can he get something done?’ It’s a long shot — but it’s his only shot.”

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

McCain’s self-rescue effort began in earnest yesterday, with a new ad that, once and for all, severed his ties with the Bush administration. Titled “Fight,” the GOP presidential nominee speaks directly to the camera: “The last eight years haven’t worked very well, have they? I’ll make the next four better. Your savings, your job and your financial security are under siege.

“We need a new direction, and I have a plan,” McCain goes on to say. “Your savings. We’ll rebuild them. Your investments. They’ll grow again.”

And, um, yeah, how will you do this?

“I don’t think he understands the issue well enough to get specific,” said Republican strategist Ed Rollins, who helped President Ronald Reagan win 49 states as his national campaign director in 1984. “But he needs to talk about the economy and be able to relate to ordinary people. I would have him just talking about the economy, saying that Obama is going to raise taxes and there’s nothing worse than a tax increase, regardless of who you’re taxing, and this will make this recession deeper.

“He should be out there saying, ‘Barack Obama is going to add all these big spending programs, and I’m the line of defense against it,” Rollins continued, “Otherwise, you’re heading back to the days of FDR and Lyndon Johnson.’”

The truth of the matter is that McCain has had months to say just that — and didn’t. Following his victory in the spring primaries, he became a ghost candidate while Obama and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton slugged it out for the Democratic nomination. Had he aggressively stepped forward, he could have articulated a domestic vision night after night and had it stamped in people’s minds when the general campaign began.

Even as late as July, Obama gave McCain a big opening. As the junior senator from Illinois toured the Middle East and Europe, he left McCain alone in the New World, with a traveling press corps absolutely desperate for news.

But instead of laying out an economic plan and coherent vision, the McCain camp toyed with reporters. Among the highlights?

The campaign leaked to columnist Robert Novak that McCain would announce his vice presidential pick. And the same day that Obama spoke to 200,000 people in Berlin, McCain went to a German restaurant in Columbus, Ohio,

Even within the last few weeks, as the tone of the campaign grew dark and the economy descended into recession, McCain punted when given the opportunity to rise to the occasion. Instead of talking about economic relief, he emphasized a portrayal of Obama as a scary, untrustworthy man. Nearly all the ads and stump speeches by pit bull and running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin centered on Obama’s ties to a former Weather Underground member and now college professor, William Ayers. If one followed the McCain campaign, one would think we were a solvent nation.

“He was going to run on national security,” Rollins said the day after the third and final presidential debate. “What you saw last night was this complete disdain for Obama, basically saying, ‘What’s this kid doing on the stage? I’ve been running for this office for 10 years; served in the Senate for 21 years; been in Washington for 26, and served my country for 55 years.’ I think he thought, because he came back in the primaries, he could come back here.”

Given McCain’s history, the Obama campaign has continued to put its foot on the throttle. Late yesterday afternoon, a mass email from Joe Biden to supporters said that,  “Anyone who tells you this election is already decided is dead wrong. Let’s not forget the 2000 election, when Al Gore was up by double digits in October. The surest way to lose a race is to slow down when the finish line is in sight.”

Similarly, as my colleague Ari Melber reported, Obama sternly told the assembled crowd at a breakfast fund-raiser at New York’s Metropolitan Club,  “For those of you who are feeling giddy, or cocky, or think this is all set, I just have two words for you — New Hampshire. I’ve been in these positions before, when we were favored and the press starts getting carried away, and we end up getting spanked.”

But the question is: What kind of paddle can McCain wield?

Unlike Rollins, fellow Republican strategist Tony Marsh believes McCain should become Mr. Specific. Marsh says McCain should develop a series of points that he can take to the stump and drive forward just as Obama has done all these months.

As someone who’s traveled a good deal with both campaigns, I can pretty much recite Obama’s economic plan by heart. After a McCain town-hall meeting, I leave with ideas that Russia is bad, tidal power is the wave of the future and Gen. David Petraeus is an American hero who will somehow lead us to victory in Iraq.

“I’ve always thought he needs a very specific plan,” Marsh said. “A five- or 10-point plan he can talk about while showing empathy for what families and small businesses are going through. He still needs to do that. But he could do all the television advertising he wants, and Obama will still outspend him. I’m not sure he has enough weapons in the arsenal to promote a strong strategy — even if he had one.

“You know words people use are so important,” Marsh continued, “and last night, when McCain talked about redistributing wealth, it almost sounded like he was talking about spreading the wealth around — which is what McCain wants to do. The difference is Obama wants to move money from one class of people to another class of people. McCain wants to do it by helping small businesses and by creating more jobs and demand in the labor market, and assure that wages go up. That’s how you spread wealth.

“I think [McCain] had a tremendous opportunity to make this point, and he failed,” Marsh said, “But … this environment is disadvantageous to Republicans. I think Barack Obama, pressing that a McCain victory is a third Bush term, is a very effective argument for him. It’s untrue — and Obama refuses to recognize the huge difference between McCain and George W. Bush — but it’s been a very effective argument.”

What McCain faces in these remaining weeks would make even the most optimistic, most economically coherent, candidate turn from the blinding glare. He remains the nominee of the party in power, whose president continues to pursue an unpopular war while the country braces for the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Foreclosed homes now dot many neighborhoods across the country, and the U.S. manufacturing base is a shadow of its former self.  The savings of millions have shrunk, and the country that once believed it could shop its way out of a crisis now finds many of its citizens in homes they cannot afford, fearing for the future.

“The election’s over,” said historian David Greenberg, author of “Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image.” “I honestly think there’s nothing [McCain] can do. He’s tried so many different lines on the economy; he basically squandered an opportunity in this crisis to show Obama was inexperienced and not ready. But McCain’s performance has been erratic and uncertain. Everything’s breaking Obama’s way. It’s like trying to hold back a tidal wave.”

Put in this position, McCain must use all his might, will and ambition to stand strong against this wave. At the end, he can reinvent himself as the commander everyone believed him to be when this race began.

It is likely to be the toughest battle of McCain’s public life. And he will have the scars to prove it.



Comment posted October 17, 2008 @ 5:48 am

“A Year With Obama”, Great Read!…

McCain can only win if people want to Repeat the failed mistakes of the past.

Comment posted October 17, 2008 @ 6:48 am

I agree that if McCain was more specific, and his message more coherent, he would be better off. I also think if he hadn't gone so negative, and spread blatant lies about his opponent, he would be better off. If he had focused that energy to solving problems, instead of instigating battles, he would be better off. After the RNC, he came out and said this elections is not about the issues anymore, its about personality. That is totally the wrong position to take, and speaks volumes about his character. This man would rather cut down and undermine his opponent, who has some pretty good ideas, rather than formulate his own way out of this mess. That is a sign of a weak individual, and not a character trait of someone who leads the free world.

Comment posted October 17, 2008 @ 9:38 am

With all my heart I sincerely hope that he can NOT comeback. I sincerely hope that the sleazy campaign that he and palin are running will NOT work. I sincerely hope that this country has gotten wiser over the last horrible 8 years. I sincerely hope that this country sees that palin is UNFIT, UNQUALIFIED to be this close to actually leading it, most likely further into a right wing ditch! I sincerely hope that the majority of people realize that mccain in NOT suited in any way to run this country, he's an ANGRY OLD MAN WHOSE FINGER SHOULD NOT BE ON OR NEAR THE RED BUTTON AT 3 A.M. MCCAIN/PALIN ARE VERY DANGEROUS FOR THIS COUNTRY!

John B Sheffield
Comment posted October 17, 2008 @ 9:41 am

It is so important that their is no complacency at this stage in the election race by the Barack Obama Campaign Team and Supporters, remember how we were told that it just could not be done! – but we have come so far and we need to get across the message of Truth about Barack Obama and his Policy which will bring the Change we need right until the last vote is cast!

Comment posted October 17, 2008 @ 10:29 am

the U.S. manufacturing base is a shadow of its former self. <- Sending manufacturing overseas to “cut costs” is what has destroyed American. You can not buy your way to a positive future, there is that point where the balance tips one way or the other and stops equally out.
Bring manufacturing BACK to America.
Let other countries BUY from us instead of us buying from them. The quality of our work outshines that of other countries……….
We have been sold out by the Reagans, Nixons and Bushes of this world.
It is time to take our country back.


Joe the Vet
Comment posted October 17, 2008 @ 10:56 am

How can he come back? He's not fit for the presidency, and it's not because he's old. He's erratic, angry, and seemly unstable. His running mate is morally and intellectually bankrupt . The current Republican ticket is a disaster waiting to happen. I'm pissed because I am….I was a Republican.

I refuse to be lumped with the knuckle dragging Hannity-heads who's solution to everything is race baiting and calling liberals/Democrats 'Marxist' or commies.

John, don't come back. You won't win. Wait it out and concede with the minuscule dignity you have left.

Comment posted October 17, 2008 @ 11:53 am

So if I read your article correctly, GOP supporters say that just to have a shot at winning, McCain would have to develop concise solutions to serious, complex issues; totally revise his talking points and advertising without looking erratic again; radically change the public perception of his platform, his integrity, and his personality; and shed Palin without losing any votes. And he's got to move all those mountains within the next 19 days.


As an Obama supporter, it's delightful to hear the opposition say things like that.

Comment posted October 17, 2008 @ 12:07 pm

So Ed Rollins thinks it's okay to lie to the American public? Obama will NOT raise taxes. If all these reporters can recite Obama's economic plan by heart, then they would know: Obama will NOT raise taxes. Argue something else and don't repeat the lies.

El Bruce
Comment posted October 17, 2008 @ 12:31 pm

“Otherwise, you’re heading back to the days of FDR and Lyndon Johnson.’”

FDR got us out of the Depression. Johnson presided over some of the best economic times in American history. He might want to pick some different examples. Maybe Truman and Carter, I don't know.

El Bruce
Comment posted October 17, 2008 @ 12:33 pm

Another problem is that the closer we get to Election Day, the less impact “changing the game plan” has. Each time makes you look more erratic. Increasing the gamble on longer and longer odds is not the kind of behavior people want from the next President.

Comment posted October 17, 2008 @ 12:49 pm

If anyone votes for this “old, desperate, lying OLD FOOL” then they get what they deserve! A horribly unqualified, and right wing extremist, religious fanatic who was prayed over by a witch doctor for vice president (probably PRESIDENT ) and a doddery , OLD , DESPERATE , LYING , OLD FOOL! GOOD ON YA, ya betcha !

Comment posted October 17, 2008 @ 3:03 pm

A huge difference between Mccain and Bush- what a joke!
Same party, same theocracy only a 9 % degree of difference between the two for voting on policies!
Smae taxes same stance on war same “no energy plan”…
Busn has Cheney a right wing wing nut…
McCain has Palin a right wing wing nut but even further to the right!
The same across the board!

Comment posted October 17, 2008 @ 3:20 pm

It is possible McCain might make a come back, but I do not trust the man and even less his running mate. Not only has McCain reversed himself on every position he has not been forthcoming with the public. McCain is no different than Bush — they are both part and parcel of the Washington establishment.

How can we trust McCain to clean-up Washington when his campaign is run by lobbyists — not to mention several were forced to resign for corruption charges and/or other altercations.

Repeatedly we hear McCain saying he puts country first, but it has become painfully clear he puts his own ambitions first. Choosing Sarah Palin is the equivalent of playing Russian Roulette with the nation's security. After exploiting the Georgian crisis many wondered if McCain was not trying to start the second Cold War. Jumping into the middle of the bail-out negotiations McCain made the situation worse. Those are political stunts that could have serious consequences. Anyone prone to acting so recklessly disqualifies that individual.

For someone who “says” he has a plan and knows how to fix things, but has little to show for it does not inspire confidence. While in the midst of several crisis when America needs a steady, calm, no-drama, pragmatic leader — one that we can trust and feel confident in — McCain's temperament, erratic behaviour, anger and recklessness spells disaster.

Many say a tiger does not change its stripes, a leopard does not change its spot and humans do not change either. The way McCain has run his campaign which has been nothing short of dishonourable, dishonest and disgraceful perhaps is the real McCain.

Given McCain's voting record, showing he voted with Bush over 90% of the time and having been part of the Washington establishment for 26 years does not a maverick make. Like Bush, McCain is part of the problem, not the solution. At this point nothing will convince me otherwise.

If McCain did make a comeback, god help us all!

John Kellermeyer
Comment posted October 17, 2008 @ 3:20 pm

If Karma is any indication of McCain's past inability to become the President of the United States, then Obama should win in a landslide.

Since there is a God, it should be even bigger than that.

movie fan
Comment posted October 17, 2008 @ 5:33 pm

McCain and Palin look, act and talk like amiable robots… both of them are the perfect combination to carry on the legacy of George W. Bush.

the fact that anyone is praising McCain for his performance in the third debate proves that he and Palin have lowered people's expectations down to nothing (don't forget, the VP debates were a tie!)

Comment posted October 26, 2008 @ 3:30 pm

With little time left john you need to have a town hall meeting with america. i realize that there is very little TV time available. But some how some way let America know what you have in mind. And be specific. with charts and graphs and explanation that a normal person can digest. and Please use comon sense with america. we are not stupid and we can understand a good idea when we hear one By now you must have chosen who you will have to advise you on every plateau. So bring all these great men and women out with you in the meeting with America. On the subject of immigration. every second and third world immigrant know what socialism sounds and tastes like. Cubans Know how and what changes Castro brought to cuba. Look at the policies that Chavez has brought to his people. These men are great speakers an they hypnotized there everyday working joe just like Obama. maybe you would have the Latin vote if you explained how change effected million of these folkes. And how the wrong policies wiped out wealth and dreams . Why else do you think these Immigrants are here and not living in there country whose land they love . Please no one wants to fight a war. And maybe in history it may be told that this was the best thing for the Middle east. Only time will show us. but to be on the losing side when we are a world power and the biggest and the best. Is just hurt full to our position and to our Honor. People, Protesters have influence and the media have a way of letting us know what they think with out knowing all the facts.. there influence is most of the time hurt full to us winning the war.You do understand even osama has Cnn. we would have won Vietnam if we continued just a little longer. and not listen to the protesters.we are winning this war in Iraq. Because we are not listening to the liberials who cry foul. Yes every one cries when we loose a loved one. But to walk out when were so close to a comon understand is showing the world we are weak americans. How discraceful. John mabe your not the best when it comes to wall street. But today wall street and main street are connected. So have your advisors get up there and explain how this all works in harmony and how we will put this country back in the black and restore all balance sheets. You need to make sure we all know when greed and lies hurt america and the world we will not let anyone who profited off the back of the regular joe's escape without paying the price. Trust needs to be the motto and John stop thinking and start acting. Because hollow words are what got poeple all over the world into this mess

john tucker
Comment posted October 26, 2008 @ 7:19 pm

we are all pons, the stage has been and always will be set for those few who know all and control all
the events past present future. we serve and are cattle in a herd for those our masters, the very
few but ten , overqs. do you think the financail crisis happened , the goverment would assist to
help the ten.

Comment posted October 26, 2008 @ 9:41 pm

u gotta learn how to spell dude…people tend to dismiss ur statements and not take them seriously!

Comment posted October 27, 2008 @ 3:54 am

If we can believe, if we can vision than it can happen. You have to belive in the possible, than work for the possible. In group formation that vision and purpose will have more power and energy. You see this happening now due to increased and better information tools (internet, cellphones, Youtube) , which all create and connect the collective consciousness.

Candy B
Comment posted October 27, 2008 @ 4:59 am

I think McCain has failed to appeal to Obama's voters. I'm voting for McCain because of economic issues. Everyone I know is voting for McCain for economic issues….not because they don't like Obama or because of the attempted attacks on Obama. Unfortunately, Obama is a better speaker and more likable and personable guy, so attacks can backfire. I wish McCain had Obama's appeal, but he doesn't so he is best served using positive strategy. Obama is appealing to a lower income bracket than McCain….the one's licking their chops to share the wealth. McCain needs to find ways to appeal to them. He already has the $250K and up vote. What about the one-income families….one who is making in the mid to upper $100K range. What if the economy requires a second income. OK….Joe the engineer, or Joe the professor who makes $175K….wife decides to go back to work….oops….we will make too much money. Or the family who has a school teacher in our public school system but with that second income, taxes will be too high, so he or she quits because the combined income puts them in the higher tax brackets. This can lower our public schools. Oh how many teachers I know that teach because they enjoy it, but if the income puts them into the bracket of Obama socialism, they may choose to leave the schools…..what a shame. But if they can stay home and enjoy other's wealth, hey take a presidential leave of absence!

Carole Waltrip
Comment posted October 27, 2008 @ 6:36 am

WHY CAN'T ALL THE NEGITIVES REGARDING OBAMA AND HIS COMMENTS COME TO THE PUBLIC IN FORCE ? He has stated he would stand with the Middle East, he hated his Mothers Race, and many more things from his own books, yet none of this comes forward, Why? Reporters and Media are so far left that it is a shame, when was personal thoughts in a reporteres job decription, or a papers value. Ethics and responsibility have goen out the window when it comes to the truth, maybe it is just making a buck to you guys. A shame, if all the truth had come out about Obama he would not have gotten this far, I do not feel that he is a good person, but then I have read his words, researched his past, and that of his Wifes, who I rthink is more radicals, racist and as dangerous as he is. Really a shame what the media does to carry one person over and leaves McCain to be supported by those like me. Give me a proven American, a Proven man who cares about this Country and People, you liberals can have Obama, and deserve him, he will never be accepted by many even if he wins. Many of us see him as evil in deeds and associations, and actions and if you believe his books, his word.

Carole Waltrip
Comment posted October 27, 2008 @ 6:43 am

Those ad's are really something, Obama is quick to tell you WHO MCCain voted with, but he fails to tell you he voted with Bush on nearly every bill since becoming a JR> Senator. Now wonder why he did'nt mentioned that ?
Obama can't find much to throw at McCain so he uses every little tidbit, but he does not tell you he was the flea on the big dogs tail.
OBAMA LOST MANY, when his books were read, HAVE YOU READ THEM ? The ” I will stand with the Middle East “, I hated my Mothers race” ” I Called my Grandmother WHITIE”, on and on, this is a disturbed man, and his wife as radical as he is.
WAKE UP AMERICA, you have a nice package, but a empty box with Obama, read his words and if that does not sway you to McCain, well, take a deep seat and a far away look, cause your in for one hellava ride. Obama will ruin this ocuntry. Oh ! And all this Wall Street mess started with the Cliontons being in the White House, they pushed for the de-regulation, not Bush. So, do some fact finding before you get so inamoured with Obama.

Comment posted November 3, 2008 @ 1:49 pm

Can someone tell me what Obama brings to the table? Seriously. No experience, questionable ties to radicals and racists, an obvious liar and waffler. I don't think we have a great choice in either candidate this year but McCain is a much better choice than a man with no leadership experience and one who continues to waffle and change his stance on various issues at a whim. I think Dennis Miller put it best, “He (McCain) gave our country 5 1/2 years, I'm willing to give him 4″.

Comment posted February 21, 2009 @ 11:17 am

you know ,really a shame what the media does to carry one person over and leaves McCain to be supported by those like me give me a proven american a proven man who cares about this Country and People.

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Comment posted September 17, 2010 @ 12:52 pm

These men are great speakers an they hypnotized there everyday working joe just like Obama. maybe you would have the Latin vote if you explained how change effected million of these folkes. And how the wrong policies wiped out wealth and dreams . Why else do you think these Immigrants are here and not living in there country whose land they love . Please no one wants to fight a war. And maybe in history it may be told that this was the best thing for the Middle east. Only time will show us. but to be on the losing side when we are a world power and the biggest and the best. Is just hurt full to our position and to our Honor.

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Why else do you think these Immigrants are here and not living in there country whose land they love . Please no one wants to fight a war. And maybe in history it may be told that this was the best thing for the Middle east. Only time will show us. but to be on the losing side when we are a world power and the biggest and the best. Is just hurt full to our position and to our Honor.

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