May 2nd, 2007

Deep Inside the “McCain is Doomed” Meme

by Philip Baruth

Ordinarily we’re fans of Kevin Drum’s Political Animal blog over at the Washington Monthly. Big fans: Drum is smart, and connected, and funny more than half the time. Which is a good bargain, especially for free.

johnny mac

But Drum’s post of yesterday, running down the GOP field, has to be one of the most half-baked pieces of punditry into which VDB has ever bitten.

After praising the depth of the Democratic bench, and considering the quandry that makes for progressive primary voters, Drum handles the GOP field in two blase sentences:

“Among the Republicans, though, it’s simpler: McCain is spiraling into irrelevance and seems clearly doomed; Rudy is a walking time bomb; and it’s nothing more than a measure of GOP desperation that Fred Thompson is considered anything but a joke. So that leaves Mitt Romney.”

There are multiple problems here, but let’s take the largest, and let’s repeat the offending line for emphasis: “McCain is spiraling into irrelevance and seems clearly doomed.”

Clearly doomed? Not just doomed, but clearly so?

Granted, McCain has had a rash of bad press and depressing fundraising numbers. But let’s face facts: Johnny Mac is on the ground in 50 states, he is at very least running third in a very crowded field, and he’s the only candidate in the top tier with a shred of military or national security experience.

And let’s remember, this is the GOP we’re talking about, the party that has made warfare and ambient fear basic platform planks.

And let’s also remember that many, many analysts believe that Giuliani’s numbers will collapse, maybe even spectacularly, in the coming months.

Which brings us to the real point here.

The Old Conventional Wisdom was that John McCain’s base was the media; he had so charmed the Fourth Estate that his pandering to social conservatives circa 2007 would go essentially unreported.

But after having been raked over the coals the last three years for their often shameful reporting of the conflict in Iraq, most members of the media are understandably gun-shy now about offering free rides, especially to outspoken pro-war types like McCain.

And the blogosphere has done its part to keep mainstream journalists honest.

The result? Front-running John McCain was quickly knee-capped, and a New Conventional Wisdom developed: McCain is doomed.

The adjectives say it all: McCain’s campaign is alternately “flagging,” “sputtering,” “on life-support,” etc. And as with Drum’s post, these diagnoses are delivered with an airy confidence just short of arrogance.

But the real point is this: The New Conventional Wisdom is really a means of rehabilitating the Old Conventional Wisdom. Sub-conscious, or half-conscious, but a means nonetheless.

That is, once everyone in the media has reported the near-death of McCain’s candidacy, then everyone in the media is off the hook as far as giving Johnny Mac a pass.

And that will allow them all to pump McCain’s “resurgent” campaign in the months before the first primaries. The tone of the coverage will change dramatically; analysts will voice what will sound like genuine surprise and grudging respect.

There will be many sightings, in short, of “the old McCain.”

And the clips we see of the man will once again be edited to show the twinkling eye rather than the curling lip we see now.

Because when all is said and done, people like John Stewart and Michael Lewis and Wolf Blitzer and Chris Matthews and Joe Klein really like and respect McCain. They wish him well.

And in 2000 they could voice that sympathy without fear. Now, seven years and a failed war later, they will eventually sing the same sympathetic chorus, but only after working out their own issues in a fairly complicated manner.

Bottom line? Anyone who tells you that McCain is doomed, at this stage of the game, is phoning it in.

And probably phoning it in from far deeper in their own subconscious than they’d likely admit.

Late Update, 3:30 pm:

Nothing like having your crackpot theory instantaneously confirmed. Reader Chris points out that Politico is test-marketing the “resurgence” theme even as we speak.

Won’t be long now, then.

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  1. Vermont Daily Briefing » VDB Suffers “Gastrointestinal Event,” Designated “Special Needs Patient” in Wake of NH Primary said,

    on January 9th, 2008 at 7:53 pm

    […] Yeah, sure, that’s the ticket: John McCain. Back in May, we had some thoughts about premature reports of Johnny Mac’s demise. Some thoughts that don’t look so nutsy cuckoo in retrospect. And possibly tomorrow, or next year, we’ll be ready to re-examine the tragic sequence of events across the Connecticut River. […]