.... listen to this interview, from today's NPR Morning Edition (audio available after 9am EDT). In it, Renee Montagne questions Steve Schmidt, famed tough-guy, gloves-off strategist for the McCain campaign.

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Anyone who has ever been near a troubled campaign -- or a sports team late in a losing game, or a business venture facing harsh reality -- will instantly recognize the signs of internalized defeat in Schmidt's comments:

Rationalization and excuses ("We were ahead until the financial crisis began"). More excuses ("We have the handicap of wearing the 'R' label this year" -- I mean, think about that for a moment, and imagine Karl Rove saying it). More and more excuses ("When someone says something inappropriate at our rallies, the media is all over it. When someone does it at an Obama rally...")  A "we'll do our best" tone as opposed to confidence about being able to win. A rote quality to the pep talk about victory ("Senator Obama is known as a weak closer, and Senator McCain is a strong finisher!"). These quotes are approximate, a few minutes after hearing the spot, but true to the spirit. Given Schmidt's reputation as the heir to Lee Atwater and Karl Rove, that he was not able to keep on his game face is startling.

Anything can still happen. But to me this is the first sign of the McCain team itself recognizing how things stand now.

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