The McCain Campaign Aftershock

Steve Schmidt takes control of John McCain's scheduling and messaging operations.

Was this a shake-up? A natural evolution? A scaling up?

Try a combination of the three.

In the year and a half since McCain and Schmidt first got to know each other, the two have grown close, almost like father and son; each very deferential to the other. Schmidt has taught McCain how to be John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate -- a different creature from just plain ol' John McCain. Schmidt is a partisan pugilist. He speaks in pre-fabricated, consumable, sharp morsels. McCain has learned from Schmidt that it's OK not to be a referre,, that it's OK not to play the judge, that it's OK to draw contrasts with your opponents. And McCain, for a variety of reasons, has come to trust Schmidt's judgment.

Schmidt and Davis are cordial to each other in private meetings. They take each other's advice. They are not and have not been at loggerheads.

The change actually happened a few weeks ago. I'm not sure why the announcement today formalized it, but the campaign clearly wants people to perceive this as some sort of a change; hence an all-staff meeting that was sure to leak.

Controlling the messaging and the scheduling are key. A campaign manager's power derives from three sources, usually: control over the purse strings, control over the schedule and control over the message. Now, Schmidt has two of those three.

One big point about the scheduling: it used to be controlled by the trioka of Davis, Carla Eudy and Christian Ferry.

Schmidt and Davis are now co-equals... with Schmidt having more of the juice these days. You might say that Davis is confident enough in his own position to have voluntarily relinquished some of his duties to Schmidt, but these changes would not have come if McCain had not indicated his unease with the current situation.

There was an acknowledgment, I am told, that the campaign had not sufficiently scaled up to fight against what is the best-run, best organized Democratic campaign in the history of the universe.

Make no mistake: McCain still likes and trusts Rick Davis, the guy who stick with him through think and thin, the guy who turned his campaign around. But now, based partially on the complaints he's heard and his own sense of where his campaign is, he wanted to evolve the campaign into general election mode.