The Plank

Does Mccain Have One More Campaign Shakeup Left In Him?

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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

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