To note the blindly obvious, about 80 percent of what John McCain talks about these days is related to foreign policy or national security. About 80 percent of what Barack Obama talks about these days is related to domestic policy.
For McCain, that 80 percent reflects deference to the reality that John Podhoretz lays out here:
... And so the irony presents itself: With a troubled economy and Democrats ahead on issue after issue, McCain will only reach the presidency in two ways. First, Barack Obama is going to have to do something from now until election day that seriously calls his judgment into question — and I mean something new, not a Jeremiah Wright offshoot. Second, there is Iraq. McCain is going to have no choice but to center his campaign around victory in Iraq — by claiming that the turnaround during the surge has not just created fragile gains but that we are on the verge of actually winning outright in Iraq and that the victory is due almost entirely to him. (Whether that’s true or not is another matter.) That Obama was wrong about the surge, is wrong about where we are now and just how meaningful it will be to secure a victory there, and that these mistakes on Obama’s part raise serious questions about his ability to handle the growing threat from Iran.
It may seem counterintuitive that McCain needs to use an unpopular war to get himself elected, but the way things look right now, nothing else is going to get him elected. Yes, he needs to spell out a reform agenda. Yes, he needs to have answers, and fluid ones, on domestic policy matters. But all that is purely defensive, to ensure that Obama’s advantage on matters like those does not grow. In the end, McCain has to make it an election about leadership. And where he has shown leadership is Iraq.
This analysis suggests that McCain's ratio ought to move closer to 60 percent foreign, 40 percent domestic as the campaign progresses - but with the constant awareness that it's the 60 percent on which his campaign will ultimately win, if win it does; the rest is essentially defensive, an arena where McCain can land punches but not a knockout blow. The challenge for Obama is in certain respects thornier, since - precisely because he's in such a strong position overall - he has a host of narratives and issues to choose from. Does he emphasize long-term Democratic goals on health care or the environment, or try to make short-term hay, like Clinton in '92, out of the sagging economy? Should he continue playing the post-partisan healer, or should he take the weakness of the Republican brand as an opportunity to run a harder-edged campaign that might succeed in decimating the GOP? And above all, does he double down on domestic policy, where his edge is enormous, or does he go for the jugular on foreign policy, Yglesias-style, trying make national security a winning issue for a Democratic candidate for the first time in living memory?
Obviously these dilemmas represent a luxury the McCain campaign would love to have. But they're dilemmas nonetheless.
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