So now the big non-drama is finally over: Arizona Senator John McCain has declared his candidacy for Presidency on David Letterman.
But if you look at recent polls, it seems that many voters would have thought his announcement would have been more suitable on Trading Places.
In six years McCain has gone from being perceived as a fiercely-independent Senator with lion-like political bravery to someone accused of flip-flopping and displaying such predictable loyalty to the Bush administration that he is now considered the GOP establishment candidate.
It’s always a bit problematicto quote former Clinton political guru and present Clinton political nemesis Dick Morris. Sometimes he seems to be to accurate political prognostication what “you’re doing a heck of a job” is to doing a heck of a job. But in his latest piece on Townhall.Com he raises some points that have been noted in many political quarters, left, center and right:
The John McCain candidacy, launched amid much hope, fanfare, and high expectations, may be dying before our eyes.
Even worse, it may go out with a whimper instead of a bang.
It may not end in an Armageddon style primary defeat, but just dry up from lack of support, money, or interest.
His analysis gets even more interesting here:
Part of McCain’s problem was that he wasn’t raising money. But the other part has been that he is spending money too rapidly â€” and not on reaching voters but on paying political consultants. One top Republican operative from the old Reagan campaign commented, “McCain has hired every consultant he can find. He has all the top names, but no money.”
Morris nails part of McCain’s ongoing problem. McCain has been seemingly forever traumatized by 2000, when he was the media darling, the darling of young people at universities, the darling of centrist Democrats, the darling of independent voters.
He had one problem, though: he wasn’t the darling of the political base. And what happened next? George W. Bush and key portions of the Republican coalition stopped him cold — a man who could have won the election but could not get nominated.
What has happened since 2000 is a classic case of ruining a valuable “brand” name.
McCain’s stunning political descent is all the more shocking because as a politician he “wears well,” in media terms — not a small attribute in 21st century America.
But these days McCain resembles the Coca Cola Company’s ill-fated idea one year: why not dump the decades-popular old Coke and offer the world The New Coke. Coca Cola did and the world quickly spit it out. Morris notes:
Fundamentally, he failed to heed the Shakespeare’s admonition “to thine own self be true.” The John McCain of the 2000 campaign is nowhere in evidence in 2007.
Instead of challenging the party establishment, he pathetically waits at its door, hoping to be invited. Where he used to challenge the religious right, he now panders to them. Once he led the battle against big tobacco, for corporate governance reform, in favor of campaign financing changes, and in support of action against global warming.
Now he has been identified with two issues, neither popular in the Republican Party: The Iraqi troop surge and amnesty for illegal aliens.
Rather than stake out an independent voice apart from the Bush administration, he has become the last survivor at Custer’s Last Stand in its support of its policies.
As Morris and Republican strategist Ed Rollins note in Morris’s column, McCain is now the voice of the Republican establishment. It’s ironic since he doesn’t agree with the administration on all issues — but on the big ones, he’s usually there.
But his problems go deeper than that.
He has morphed into the voice of the Bush faction GOP estabishment. GOPers who are unhappy on the far right or the Republican center can’t be too keen about backing McCain because he’s either offering a) more of the same sincerely or b) going through the motions of offering more of the same but hoping people think he doesn’t mean it.
But if he does hope some people think he doesn’t mean it, the wrong constituents may be getting that impression as well. Morris again:
He looks small, shrunken, weak, cowed, and timid. He shows all of his 70 years of age including the roughly lived period at the hands of the tender mercies of the North Vietnamese. It is hard to imagine him as a strong leader as he meekly answers questions from the likes of Tim Russert and George Stephanopoulos.
[The]other problem can be summed up in one word: Rudy.
Not everyone would agree that McCain looks spent. He looks vigorous enough physically, and he certainly doesn’t seem timid.
He just looks like someone who’s still battered by going from being The Man Who Was Going To Take The Country By Storm in 2000 — only to be shot down by members of his own party — to someone who is trying to make sure that his old foes don’t shoot him down again. He’s trying to win friends and influence people, get them over to his side and take their ammunition away.
But he’s not winning over enough numbers of the old foes and he’s losing the people who admired his independence from traditional political talking points, his unpredictability, his penchant in 2000 to talk like a real human being instead of like one more Democratic or Republican pol mouthing words aimed at political positioning.
No, the old McCain has not totally vanished and he doesn’t look like he’s 120 years old.
What’s changed is that a year ago John McCain was walking a political tightrope.
And now it seems as if he has fallen off.
UPDATE: And THIS won’t endear him to conservatives who already distrust him.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.