You are using an outdated browser.
Please upgrade your browser
and improve your visit to our site.
Skip Navigation

Does Mccain Have One More Campaign Shakeup Left In Him?

Chait and Kaus both say there's still plenty of time for McCain Campaign 4.0 to be unveiled, with Mike Murphy running the show. I still say no way--McCain is going to sink or swim with Version 3.0 and Steve Schmidt, and yesterday's shakeup means Murphy (and John Weaver, for that matter) are going to remain on the sidelines for this one.

My reasoning is two-fold. First, I think Schmidt is going to be up to the challenge in front of him. Everyone rightly talks about his time in BushWorld, but I think the more relevant experience might be his stewardship of Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2006 reelection campaign. When Schmidt came on board, Schwarzenegger was in serious trouble, having just spent all of his political capital on four unsuccessful (and fairly conservative) ballot initiatives in 2005; his approval ratings were in the toilet. He'd been branded a conservative out of touch with California voters. But for the gubernatorial campaign, Schmidt steered Arnold to the center, which enabled the Governator to win over many of the same independents and Democrats who'd abandoned him a year earlier.

I realize there's a popular school of thought that Schmidt's elevation cements the notion that McCain is running for Bush's third term, but I think Schmidt's more likely to take the McCain campaign in the opposite direction. Under Schmidt, look for McCain to make forays onto issue terrain that typically favors Democrats--like, say, the environment--and try to compete with Obama for ownership of the change mantle. Combine Schmidt's strategic flexibility with a Rove-like tactical ruthlessness--Schmidt, a senior McCain adviser told me, was the brains behind McCain's accusation back before the Florida Primary that Romney favored "surrender" in Iraq, which may have stretched the truth but served the purpose of changing the subject from the economy to the war right when it seemed like Romney was getting traction out of the former--and, in Schmidt, I think McCain might have found a change he can believe in. None of this means I think McCain is going to win--because I don't--but I think Schmidt's the sort of campaign chief who'll give McCain his best chance of doing so.

The second reason I think this will be the final dramatic upheaval in McCainland is because, even if Schmidt tanks, I don't think McCain can afford to do any more major reshuffling without running the risk of key Republicans concluding that he's hopeless and abandoning him en masse, a la Bob Dole in 1996. "At some point, the question has to be, can McCain manage five or six people," one GOP leader complained to me after yesterday's shakeup. "That's what McCain has to show, that he can get his campaign running, because it says something about what kind of administration he'll run." Although there are still four months until November, I get the sense that people in McCainland knew this was their last shot to get things right. Plus, the fact that McCain turned to Schmidt instead of Murphy in his hour of need has to piss off Murphy, since he and Schmidt are cut from similar cloth and are said to have a pretty fierce rivalry; even if McCain wanted to bring Murphy on board at some future point, who's to say Murphy would be willing?

I love internal campaign drama as much as the next guy, and I think the McCain operation still has the potential to give us some good stuff. (How Schmidt handles his relationship with Rick Davis should be interesting; presumably he's learned a lesson from the last time Davis was pushed aside--the lesson being, as Mark Salter aptly put it, “It’s not like we can just put Rick in a corner and give him a fucking banana." ) But I think the juiciest episodes of "As McCainland Turns" are now behind us.

--Jason Zengerle