On McCain’s Last Hurrah

I watched Meet the Press this morning as General Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama for President. Powell made a well-reasoned and well-articulated argument for Obama, that he has shown steadiness in the face of challenge, the intellecual temperament, and the understanding necessary to be President of the United States. John McCain, in Powell’s view, has been erratic in the face of recent economic challenges, has shown poor judgment in the choice of Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, and a lack of moral character in the appalling robocalls and mailings he’s unleashing against the Democratic candidate.

Josh Marshall of Talkingpointsmemo writes about where that last point — McCain’s slimy robocalls that play up William Ayers and the mailings that conflate Obama with Osama bin Laden — in a piece entitled “Race to the Bottom“:

Yes, it looks good for the Democrats. But you need to play close attention to the McCain campaign’s final weeks’ strategy under and just above the radar. McCain’s final strategy relies on two pillars. The first is aggressively playing to voters’ fears of electing a black president. Make no mistake: not just his campaign in a general sense, but McCain himself and his top handful of advisers, are banking on the residual racism in a changing America to get them over the finish line. The second is an aggressive use of innuendo to convince casual voters that Obama is in league with Islamic terrorists bent on killing Americans.

McCain’s gone negative. Tearing down Obama is his only chance. If it wins him the White House, he’s succeeded. If it doesn’t work, he’s done in Washington anyway. There’s no downside to McCain going as nasty and as brutish as he needs to be.

One thing that has gone unnoticed is that, unfortuately, McCain is going to have the media on his side the next two weeks.

The reason is simple. CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, every news organization, really, needs a narrative. McCain making a come-from-behind run at the White House in the final two weeks is a narrative they will want. And worse, they’ll enable it. They’ll focus on the polling showing that McCain is pulling close, while downplaying the hows and whys of McCain’s closing on the prize. To make the race look closer than it is, the media will ask, “Why is Obama faltering in the final two weeks?” rather than, “Has John McCain no shame?” The media doesn’t want a foregone conclusion on election night. The media, through the manner of coverage, will keep the election on the edge, even if that means they look the other way when McCain unleashes a negative ad barrage, if Palin whips her rallies up into a lynch-mob mentality, and so on.

Yes, that’s bloody cynical on my part, and I freely admit it.

I’ve thought for while that this presidential election will come down one of two ways. Either Obama wins in an Electoral College landslide (say, by 150+ votes), or McCain is going to win the Electoral College in a squeaker (say, by 10 votes or less). And in both cases, I’m expecting Obama to win the popular vote nationwide.

This election is John McCain’s last hurrah. There’s nothing left for him if he loses the election. He has nothing to lose by going negative in ways that we can’t begin to imagine. And he has everything to gain.

It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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