Back in July, when Steve Schmidt took over the McCain campaign, I predicted that if he continued to trail, another shakeup would happen before the election, and McCain would "try to recreate the magic of the 2000 campaign." They laughed at me, said I was crazy. McCain did take some momentum in late summer and early fall, but now he's well behind. In a bloggingheads segment last week, Ramesh Ponnuru asked me for my advice. I said that McCain should apologize for the nasty campaign, fire Schmidt, and run a media-accessible, 2000-style campaign. Ramesh replied, "Hmm, well, not gonne happen."
Who's laughing now, Ramesh? Bill Kristol today urges McCain to (essentially) fire his campaign staff and run a media-friendly, issue-oriented campaign. Kristol advises McCain to "volunteer a mild mea culpa about the extent to which the presidential race has degenerated into a shouting match" at Wednesday's debate. It's not clear if Kristol's advice is being followed, but McCain is retooling his message dramatically in a way that may or may not comport with Kristol's advice. (And my advice, though I suspect the McCain campaign takes Kristol's advice more seriously than mine.)
Yes, yet another dramatic McCain gambit is pretty silly right now. (Saturday Night Live has already spoofed this, with Darrell Hammond, as McCain, challenging Obama to replace the debates with pie-eating contests.) But McCain really has little to lose right now by throwing a hail mary pass, wooing the press, apologizing for the tone of the campaign in hopes of winning back the center. It probably won't work, but I say it's his best shot.