The front page of the New York Times on Wednesday, July 11, 2007 had plenty of material to get my mind going. The first article of interest for me was the story indicating that Sentor John McCain was on the verge of dropping out of the Presidential race becuase his campaign was unravelling. The consensus reason for the imminent demise is a lack of money; his fundraising intake is "drying up." Surprise, surprise. The lack of money isn't the problem, it is the symptom of a campaign that has made no sense. The NYT writers, Nagourney and Kirkpatrick, assign much of the blame to "Republican opposition to McCain's stances on issues like immigration." What Republicans? Every discussion of Republicans these days refers to the ultra-conservatives, the neo-cons and social conservatives that have hijacked the grand old party. Have moderate republicans run out of disposable income? Does the hard-core right-wing of the party control the destiantion of all donations?
McCain's problems began when he conformed his campaign tactics to the popular perception that you have to run to the extreme edge of your nominating party in the primaries to secure the base, after which you run back to the center to cature the general election. I can imagine the conversations in McCain's Senate office when his advisors told him he needed to launch a bible belt tour, starting with genuflecting to the student body of Liberty University. "We will keep it on the down low, nobody will notice." "By the time we hit the general election the Reagan Democrats and moderate Republicans won't remember you were there." In the Internet era everyone from traditional reporters to political junkie bloggers will know where you appeared and what you said within hours. Video of your speech will be on YouTube the following morning. The Republican Moderates and the Reagan Democrats aren't going to forgive your appearance at Liberty University any more than they are going to forgive your steadfast support for the Bush Administration's disasterous and misguided foray into Iraq. Weclome to the Internet era.
I was privvy to a remarkable dialog between two experinced envoys from the left and the right just prior to the 2004 elections. Both agreed that the candidate that was able and willing to run to the center would sweep any presidential election. How do you reconcile that with the need to raise inordinate amounts of money, starting a year before the primary? The consensus answer is run to the extremes, that is where the early money is. I don't think that works for a candidate like McCain. Smart money doesn't follow ideals; money flows as long as the money thinks the candidate can win. For a candidate like McCain that means staying true to what made you popular to begin with, not changing your colors to appeal to a vocal extreme. Act like a front-runner and raise money from your true base and the fringe will fear you and curry your favor. Make the bible belt come to you.