John McCain Is Responsible For Getting Out Of His Predicament

The corollary to the argument that John McCain is not entirely responsible for his political predicament is that he and his campaign are entirely responsible for getting out of it.

Option 0: Focus. Stop the scatter shot, hyper-zig-zag appeal to the base one day, appeal to moderates the next day. Spend much less time on foreign policy -- it seems as if McCain spends 60% of his time on Iraq, 30% on other foreign policy issues, and 10% of time on domestic policy. Change the ratio: spend 50% of your time on reform, 30% on energy and economic security, and 20% on Iraq and foreign policy.

Drawback: McCain's comfort zone would need to significantly enlarged.

Option 1: Truly, madly, deeply distance yourself from President Bush by way of policy distinctions on a subject other than climate change; stop respectfully disagreeing with the 27% President and start angrily disagreeing with him -- after all, Americans are angry about the direction of the country. They do not "respectfully" disagree with the President like you do.

Drawback: Though Republican conservatives have, say the polls, found their way to McCain, they drool much less than liberal Democrats do over their own nominee. The more daylight between McCain and Bush, the theory goes, the less enthusiastic the Republican base will be. Also: the angrier McCain gets, the more he turns moderate Republican and independent women off.

Option 2
: Unleash the guns. Go after Obama's patriotism frontally; pronounce Michelle Obama fair game; play the race card; demagogue gays; turn the race into a 2004-esque series of cultural contrasts.

Drawbacks: It's (a) not clear that this works anymore, even as a way to gin up the Republican base; (b) it would completely violate every principle McCain stands for; (c) it would irrevocably alienate crossover women; (d) the Tennessee Republican Party and various 527 groups will do this anyway.

Option 3: Get rid of some of your senior advisers; purge every former lobbyist from your payroll; make a clean start. This would send the message that McCain "gets" it. It would create an expectation of a new beginning, allowing McCain to do something bold on policy, potentially.

Drawbacks: It's not clear whether McCain would be any happier; there are many personal entanglements that would have to be straitened out before certain advisers are brought back aboard; the media might cover the news as evidence of a campaign in permanent flux;

Option 4
: Solve the women problem. It's an open secret in Republican and Democratic circles that less ideological Republican women and independent women are openly disdainful of John McCain in focus groups; they find him angry; they don't believe that he's equipped with the proper temperament to do the job. McCain can't win Pennsylvania this way unless he somehow manages to turn out white men in record numbers. The solution: appoint Tom Ridge to the ticket; appear on Oprah and Ellen once a week; appoint himself as permanent co-host of the View; buy ads on Bravo and Lifetime; Or, try to scare these women into thinking that Barack Obama is so dangerously inexperienced that his election will render their lives all the more insecure and unstable. Or, appear with your children; open up your private life some more.

Drawbacks: McCain's going to have to tackle this problem at some point unless he intends on running as, or winning as, the candidate of white men.

Option 5: Don't panic. McCain's not in a predicament. Barack Obama faces a tough electoral college map. His enthusiastic supports in New York and California and New Jersey and Illinois will drive up his popular vote margins but don't really translate, at this point, into solid strength in the states that will determine the election. Narrow the message a bit, stop giving all those policy speeches, start giving three town hall meetings a day, and see what happens.

Drawback: Campaign strategists who don't panic? That violates every precept of evolutionary psychology. And even if the campaign is calm, the concentric circles of interest outsiders will continue to panic.

Option 6: A game-changer. Pledge to serve for only one term. Appoint your veep pick early. Do something creative with public financing. Propose some new policy that takes your allies and your opponents by surprise. Challenge Obama to weekly debates.

Drawback: Campaigns are consensus-based and risk averse.