The Teetering McCain Campaign

After a less than dazzling 2nd quarter fundraising performance, a frighteningly high burn rate, and massive staff cuts, John McCain has had another big staff shake-up,

“John McCain jettisoned two top aides Tuesday, the one-time Republican front-runner struggling to right a presidential bid in deep financial and political trouble.

Campaign manager Terry Nelson and chief strategist John Weaver offered McCain their resignations, which the Arizona senator accepted with “regret and deep gratitude for their dedication, hard work and friendship.”

Other senior aides followed the two out the door, and the campaign announced that Rick Davis, who managed McCain’s 2000 bid and the current campaign’s chief executive officer, will take over.”

The mainstream press likes to attribute McCain’s plunge to his support of the war in Iraq and the immigration bill in the Senate — and they’re half right.

When it comes to Iraq, of the 2008 contenders, only Ron Paul and to a lesser extent Tom Tancredo, could be fairly said to be in the anti-war camp (although Brownback has been straddling the fence a bit). Part of that is because the GOP candidates are much more responsible than the Democrats who are comfortable with an Al-Qaeda victory in Iraq and genocide if it benefits them politically, and part of it is because amongst Republicans, the war is more popular than with the general public.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say McCain’s military background, his name recognition, his strong support of the war, and his fiscal conservatism are the biggest things he has going for him right now — with Republicans (there’s a little caveat coming in the paragraph after next).

Where McCain has really been hurt with Republicans is on comprehensive immigration reform, which has been proven time and time again this year to kill fund raising and approval numbers for any GOP candidate associated with it.

Moreover, it’s particularly difficult for McCain to recover because he is widely despised by conservative media and most right-wing activists, while many of his supporters tend to be, in my opinion, less conservative and more casual about their politics than supporters of the other candidates. That’s problematic for McCain because it makes him much more reliant on praise from the mainstream press than the other candidates and they’re down on him for supporting the war and for pandering to Republicans much more than usual while trying to win their votes.

So, this is the trap McCain is in: he can’t gain much ground with conservatives because the people whose opinions matter most to them don’t like him. However, the MSM can’t deliver a victory for him because they’re down on him and so, he’s not ever going to be able to get to the point where conservatives will start trying to jump on the bandwagon because he looks likely to win.

That being said, where can McCain go from here? The honest truth is that I don’t think he has anywhere to go. The chasm between him and the conservative media is too wide to be bridged and even if he flip flopped on the war at this point, he’d probably lose more core supporters, who are behind him largely for that reason, than he’d gain from the MSM’s praise.

I’m reluctant to say that a guy who’s polling in third place nationally in July can’t win, but I think the problem is McCain and the political climate, not his staff. Republicans are very dissatisfied with Bush, most of the Republicans in Congress (although I would have to give the House Republicans in general, John Boehner, John Ensign, and — I can’t believe I am saying this — Roy Blunt, credit for doing a much better job than most conservatives are giving them credit for right now), and in a climate like that, they are going to be particularly leery of getting behind a guy like McCain whose trademark is disappointing conservatives on vitally important issues.

I consult for the Duncan Hunter campaign.

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