The US Presidential campaign never ceases to be entertaining. I’ve long ago given up trying to predict anything, especially based on poll movements. However, people do seem to be worried that McCain has risen in the polls, and has done so by basically going batshit crazy and throwing his moral ballast overboard. By that I mean that McCain’s maverick status used to be due to his courageous breaks from Republicanism on issues like immigration, climate change, Bush tax cuts, etc. And now he’s abandoned those stands, picked a symbolic right wing VP and is hewing to the extreme right of Bush, all while lying shamelessly. And it has gotten him a bump in the polls. This, however, I would argue, is a race where the polls only really matter when people go to them and everything else is just statistical noise. The McCain campaign now appears on the media radar, but more like a child throwing a tantrum than a Presidential candidate.
The one good move McCain made, I think, was attacking Barack for his charisma and change message and then immediately trying to run on those attributes himself. He’s pressured Obama into giving more policy-oriented and less soaring speeches, and into emphasizing his experience. At the same time, McCain is trying to brand himself as a change agent, and has brought the charismatic (albeit wholly unqualified) Sarah Palin onto the ticket. It would be a really smart move if it a) he weren’t running as a hard-core Republican while they are the incumbents b) if this weren’t the real McCain and if c) Palin wasn’t wholly unqualified to be commander in chief. And McCain has like 1/3 chance of dying as President, just based on being 72.
The huge bad move McCain made is abandoning the principles that made him an appealing candidate in the first place. He used to tell the truth, even to the Republican establishment. Now he gets caught in absurd lies like saying Palin never supported the Bridge To Nowhere (she did), Obama supported teaching sex education to Kindergartners (it was protection from child predators) and that Palin knows has been to Iraq and Ireland (she never crossed the border, and refueled a plane in Ireland). The most obvious example was him getting grilled on The View, of all places. McCain was once a press darling because he didn’t have bullshit and talking points coming out of his pores. The sad thing is that he simply isn’t even that good at it. He can’t grin properly. He’s lying too early in the election cycle, enough time for things to get disproved and for him to develop a reputation. And, of course, it’s generally bad to sell out your principles so obviously when you’re running for President.
But Obama seems to have that effect, of making his opposition go batshit crazy. Near the end Hillary Clinton was calculating on her fingers and toes how to somehow win the delegate count by changing the rules. Meanwhile, Obama was doing heavy ground-organizing, registering voters and being focused on the goal, in that case winning delegates. Even in states that Hillary won (like Ohio or Texas) the Obama campaign fought hard for every delegate, giving her net gains of only dozens, or even losses. Then in states that Hillary ignored, Obama campaigned hard, got delegates, even if it was a few at at time. By the time Hillary looked around she was getting press coverage, but not the delegates to win.
In the same way, for McCain, he seems focused on the national news cycle and moving his national poll numbers, but their ground game still sucks and they’re not registering voters or even having offices in many states. Obama is playing to win and McCain is playing for the soap opera crowd. Hence we get this Northern Exposure pregnancy crap from McCain, while the Obama campaign is telling everyone to chill the fuck out as they register new voters (49,000 in August in Virginia alone) and generally campaign and organize without throwing honor and principle out the window to get on the news.
McCain could have picked Britney Spears and gotten attention, but that doesn’t necessarily help him win the Presidency. As a weird aside, in measuring the popularity of internet searches on Palin, you can use Britney Spears as a baseline. Strange world. The real McCain is a fundamentally serious guy, at least about foreign policy and he’d be much more comfortable governing with someone boring like Lieberman or Lindsey Graham. But this isn’t a move based on governing, it’s based on the news cycle. And that’s probably what he’s going to get in the end. Not government, but old news.