[This article also appears on Huffingtonpost.com. You can access it from my author page here.]
No, unfortunately, I don't think that John McCain's campaign is really over. But there has been an amazing confluence of events in the last 24 hours that have undermined every key basis of McCain's campaign, so much so that it is hard to see how anyone who is not an extreme right-wing Republican could even consider voting for him. If McCain survives the last 24 hours, I'm not sure what it will take to stop him. You start to wonder if he could drop his pants in the middle of a town hall and still suffer no consequences.
Just think, in the last 24 hours:
McCain has made Iraq and national security the center of his campaign. He has unabashedly flouted his support of the war in Iraq, and he has repeatedly suggested that Barack Obama does not have the judgment necessary to be president because, among other things, he supports timetables for the withdrawal of American troops from the country. He has accused Obama of trying to "legislate" defeat.
Well, first, in July, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq was necessary, seriously undermining the whole Bush-McCain strategy for staying in Iraq. McCain brushed off Maliki's remarks as the Iraqi prime minister just playing politics, not expressing his true beliefs.
But now McCain's biggest nightmare has come true. Today we find out that Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice appeared with the Iraqi foreign minister to announce that the two countries have agreed that a timetable should be set for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.
McCain now stands alone. After all his criticisms of Obama's judgment on this issue, the Iraqis and even the Bush administration have now been forced to concede that a timetable for withdrawal is necessary (essentially adopting Obama's long-held position). McCain's criticisms have blown up in his face. Anyone paying attention would have to laugh off his claims now that his judgment on Iraq is superior to Obama's (especially considering that Obama opposed the war, while McCain told Americans it would be an easy victory, we would be greeted as liberators, and we would only be faced with a short engagement).
Throughout the campaign, Obama has hammered home the point that the real war on terror is based in Afghanistan, and that more troops were needed there to secure the country. In July, McCain mocked Obama's position, calling him naive and premature. Again, McCain used Obama's plan as an example of his lack of judgment.
McCain also had maintained that the war in Iraq was not affecting the ability of the U.S. to send a sufficient amount of troops to Afghanistan, something that was directly contradicted in early July by Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when he said, "I don't have troops I can reach for, brigades I can reach, to send into Afghanistan until I have a reduced requirement in Iraq. Afghanistan has been and remains an economy-of-force campaign, which by definition means we need more forces there."
Mullen's repudiation of McCain's position didn't knock him off his high horse, but yesterday's actions by the Pentagon sealed McCain's fate on this issue. The military announced (quietly, with little media coverage) that 11,000 soldiers would be sent to Afghanistan.
Once again, Obama took a position, McCain mocked him and claimed it showed bad judgment, and then, ultimately, Obama's stance was proven to be correct and was adopted. What can McCain say now?
How Many Houses?
Moving from the substantively important to America's obsession with silliness, when John Kerry was photographed windsurfing during the 2004 campaign, he cemented his image with voters of being an upper-class elitist, out of touch with the day-to-day lives of the common folks. The judgment wasn't based on policies, since Kerry's positions were unquestionably more in tune with those of the average blue collar worker than the stands taken by George W. Bush. But in our image-is-everything culture, the photo resonated with many voters, confirming that Kerry was not one of them. (The need for a candidate to be "average" is insane, but that's a discussion for a different article.)
Yesterday, McCain had his windsurfing moment. When asked how many houses he and his wife owned, McCain said he didn't know and would have to check with his staffers. After the McCain campaign said the answer was at least four, Obama later happily pointed out that, in fact, the McCains had seven homes. If McCain's remark last week at Rick Warren's values forum about $5 million being the threshold for being "rich" (watch for yourself here) didn't sink the idea of McCain as a "man of the people," then not knowing how many houses he owns should put McCain's regular guy status over the edge. Maybe once and for all people will realize that McCain is a man of extreme wealth. To borrow the famous Seinfeld phrase, "not that there's anything wrong with it," but being rich is not the image the McCain campaign likes to project for its candidate.
Can you imagine if Obama ever said he didn't know how many homes he owned? He would be done. This should be McCain's windsurfing moment. Let's see if the media and the public treat McCain the way they treated Kerry.
Yesterday, a woman in a town hall meeting in New Mexico, after a long list of thoughts, said that she didn't see a way to go after Osama bin Laden without reinstating the draft. McCain responded by saying, "I don't disagree with anything you said." (Watch for yourself here.)
Clearly, such a policy would not be popular with a huge percentage of young people and parents. Maybe McCain really is in favor of bringing back the draft, and maybe he is not. If he's called on it, I'm sure he'll try to dodge the issue and deny that he even said it (after all, he never suffers consequences for his lies, so why should he stop?).
But for a presidential candidate to say that he "doesn't disagree" with reinstating the draft is a major gaffe. Again, if Obama made such a statement, it would be all but game over for his campaign. Let's see if McCain survives it.
All and all, not a banner day for McCain's ambitions (yes, he has them) for the White House.
There is no doubt that McCain's candidacy has been on an upswing, and recent Rasmussen polls have shown him gaining in key battleground states like New Hampshire. But by every measurement, the last 24 hours should be devastating to the McCain campaign. He has been undermined and proven wrong (and worse, Obama has been proven correct) on his bedrock issue of national security, specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan; he has exposed himself to the electorate as wealthy and out of touch; and he has advocated for, of all things, reinstating the draft. If McCain survives the last day, I fear it means that voters, for whatever reason, don't want to hear the truth about John McCain.
Is today the day that McCain's campaign dies? It should be. Let's see if it is.