With 7 days left in the campaign McCain-Palin is behind by 7 points. Pundits are obsessively dissecting the red states in which the GOP is trailing and needs to catch up in order to win: Virginia, Colorado, Ohio, Florida, New Mexico, Nevada and New Hampshire, and wondering what secret message from above has led the GOP to continue to try to steal blue Pennsylvania, despite trailing by as much as 10 points there in the polls. But there's no need to be fixated on these states. What McCain needs is a 7 or 8 point national swing; accomplish that and the swing states will follow.
Everyone with the GOP's interests at heart seems to agree that the whole McCain effort, in advertising and public appearances, must concentrate on one or two themes and no more. But there's total disagreement on what those themes should be. This late in the game you have to toss a lot of plays, plays that would be good in different situations, out of the playbook. Let's take a look at the themes that could have been fruitful that McCain has to now discard.
1. William Ayers, Unrepentant Terrorist
Contributors on places like NR Online have been screaming from the stands for McCain to hit harder Obama's associations with William Ayers, unrepentant terrorist now occupied with trying to turn the public schools into teachers of socialist revolution. Obama's judgment in allowing Ayers to host a meeting for his campaign is indeed open to question. But McCain has already hit this in the debates, to the displeasure of the wired-up "independents" in the network focus groups.
2. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Race Baiter and America Hater
Out of an excess of delicacy McCain declared Obama's inspiration, mentor and long-time pastor out of bounds. It's too late to reverse course now; it would be slammed as a desperate act of race-baiting. Personally what I found most appalling about the Obamas' participation in this congregation is his bringing his 6 and 9 year daughters to this school of America hatred and race animosity. I'm hoping that they were safely ensconced in Sunday School during the Rev. Wright's rants.
3. Joe the Plumber
The McCain people felt they had a winning issue with Joe the Plumber. Instead what they have done is expose the weakness of a tactic the Republicans have successfully employed for 30 years: Working and middle class voters accepted lower tax rates on the rich following a principle of fairness, that everybody should get the same percentage tax reduction. Joe the Plumber brought to public attention a conflicting principle of fairness: working and middle class voters do not really oppose the idea of making people who earn more than $250K paying higher percentage tax rates, when the issue is framed that way. As John Dickerson has noted McCain was 4 points ahead of Obama a month ago on being "better on taxes"; now he's 14 points behind. Invocation of Joe the Plumber has backfired.
4. Experience and Maturity
Everyone knows that McCain is old as dirt and has been in politics forever. Those who are impressed by this are already on side. Obama, like Ronald Reagan, passed the looks-like-a-president test in the debates and can't be taken down on this issue now.
5. Terrorism and Iraq
After Obama's bellicose interest in invading Pakistan was expressed in the debates, the traditional GOP edge on this issue has slipped to 6 points. But this isn't a bad issue; it's just not a major concern of the public right now.
There's two plays McCain and Palin need to use to go for the upset next Tuesday:
1. DRAW THE TERRIFYING PICTURE OF TOTAL DEMOCRATIC CONTROL
The polls do show an opening here. People do not like the idea of the absolute rule of President Obama and two Democratic houses of congress. An advantage of this tactic is that it can be accomplished without seeming to go negative on Obama personally, something that's hurt McCain severely already. The GOP needs to push in the viewing audience's faces every wild and wacky pet idea of every left winger likely to wield power in the next Congress. There's a genuine moral duty to be performed here: the electorate needs to know that an Obama presidency with a Democratic House and filibuster-proof Senate could change America in a way they may not be expecting, may not like and which may be impossible to reverse.
BTW he adjective to use on the Democrats is not "socialist", which is not quite believable and sounds desperate, nor "liberal" which no longer packs enough of a punch. The word to use is "radical", which is scary enough for the present purposes and has the advantage of being incontrovertibly true.
Oh and every GOP Senate candidate in trouble should be using this argument too, as Elizabeth Dole is doing in North Carolina and Norm Coleman is doing in Minnesota.
2. SHOW THAT ONLY JOHN MCCAIN CAN BE TRUSTED TO FIX AND MAINTAIN THE ECONOMY
The economy is the most important issue for over half the population, and those who have a preference prefer Obama over McCain by 64% to 36%. John McCain cannot win the election without turning these numbers around.
This is the tricky one, since McCain has no particular expertise on the economy and tends to do confidence-sapping things like ad libbing major economic policies in the midst of a debate. Maybe the themes of experience and proven courage can be worked in here. Maybe he wants to be more specific about what regulation of financial institutions he will recommend to the new Congress. Maybe you want to throw the Hail Mary and warn that incompetent management of the economy in 1929 turned a stock market crash into The Great Depression, and that raised taxes and imposition of tariffs are two of the mistakes that contributed to it. I see on Fox News that McCain has rolled out his economic team today. Maybe that will lead to something.
Those are the plays. Go to the shotgun, call three plays at a time in the huddle, run out of bounds before being tackled, and John McCain might well cash in on his current 10% chance of winning the election.
But if McCain keeps repeating his same old themes then, as an old pal of Sen. Obama's might say, you don't have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.