Now finding himself with only a few chips left in a poker game he once expected to win, John McCain is going all-in on a flyer. His campaign is broke and his standing is in tatters, after losing the moderates by running right on Iraq, and losing the base by running to the center on immigration.
But while the press reports breathlessly on the drama of his checkbook woes and the firing/quitting of droves of his staff, he is still running, and it’s his platform shakeup that may prove quietly momentous — if he can stay in the race…
Global warming now tops his agenda! He announced Monday that his platform from here on would be about four things: curbing global warming, curbing wasteful government spending, reforming military procurement (Eisenhower’s corpse breathes a sigh of relief), and dealing with radical Islamic extremism.
That’s right, a Republican candidate is building a primary-campaign platform around climate change. If Hillary Clinton had listed the same platform for herself, we wouldn’t be surprised. (Except that we don’t think she’d have the guts to take on military spending reform — Democratic candidates hate to make enemies.) We are waiting to hear exactly what the McCain global-warming platform will be — the details count for almost the whole enchilada.
This 4-point platform carves out great differences from George W. Bush — first, by simply mentioning the environment, and second, by taking on government spending. That doesn’t surprise us too much; he never was a loyal Bushie. But what’s more interesting is that McCain is pointedly making no effort to be Reaganesque — after all, Reagan apostles don’t shine hard lights on military spending, they revel in it.
So what are McCain’s expectations? Does he think he still has a shot? Or is this an admission of defeat, and a decision to use his campaign solely to try to move public opinion on issues he cares about? That would be noble.
Perhaps, though, this is a decision to carve out his own turf, be true to his past maverick, and try like hell for 6 months to move Iowa and New Hampshire voters to his point of view. 6 months is a long time. He has 100% name-recognition (better than his opponents, and invaluable on election day), and still carries a good reputation for integrity and substance from his 2000 run. This new platform is all substance; at the very least, it is more in line with the John McCain voters remember than any of his recent uncertain campaign tactics.
If he scores well in Iowa and New Hampshire, the next week brings states like California and New York, whose voters have spent the last decade voting for every non-traditional Republican they can find — Schwarzenegger, Bloomberg, and Spitzer are hardly base-panderers.
Furthermore, Iowans showed in 2004 (by picking John Kerry and snubbing Howard Dean) that a pedigreed centrist can beat a newcomer with high-flying dollars and poll numbers. If that bit of history is to be believed, that one day can rewrite the race, and the pedigreed centrist can then coast to the nomination on momentum.
It’s a piece of Democratic history that probably gives hope to a man who is having trouble being a Republican.