In the Arena

Game Changers

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Several Republicans–Reagan Administration sorts–have said to me in the past few days, “It’s over. McCain blew it.” I dunno. We have a month left–and all sorts of things can happen. Here’s a list of some of them, in order of likelihood:

1. McCain finds a gut-bucket issue that works–my personal suspicion is that it will be immigration demagoguery, even though he wrote the comprehensive bill. Obama’s position in favor of drivers licenses for illegal immigrants is an area of legitimate disagreement between the candidates and an obvious target.

2.Osama Bin Laden weighs in: He did it last time, releasing a tape hammering Bush on the last weekend of the campaign. The CIA assessment was that bin Laden wanted Bush–whose policies had brought many new recruits–reelected. This time, you could see Osama “endorsing” Obama…

3. McCain does better in the next two debates–one of them is a town meeting, his favorite format. Another possible opportunity for McCain is that the first debate was watched by a mere 50 million, probably because it was held on Friday night. The town hall debate audience will be much larger, I suspect, giving McCain a second chance to make first impressions.

4. Obama screws up somehow–yeah, yeah, highly unlikely. But not impossible. After all, he did make the
“cling to religion and guns” comment. More likely, will be a revisitation of a past screwup–Jeremiah Wright inserts his humble presence into the campaign. Some youthful political indiscretion is unearthed.

5. The economic issue recedes and national security comes to the fore. Iraq blows up again (the Shi’ites diss the Sunni Awakening), Pakistan disintegrates and the disposition of the nukes is unclear–and then there’s always the not-so-unthinkable…another terrorist strike. (Although given McCain’s erratic behavior in the past month, I’m not so sure this would be an advantage for him.)

Finally, I’ve watched a parade of talking heads–politicians and journalists–solemnly announce that the only path to success for John McCain now is to go negative. Given McCain’s combative nature, it’s probably a safe assumption.Then again, McCain has been relentlessly negative since mid-summer and it hasn’t worked very well for him–and also, McCain has a natural tendency to confound the conventional wisdom. So he could shock us all…and go positive. He could sign on to Senator Ron Wyden’s Universal Health Care bill, which is getting support from the business community. He could come up with a really great alternative energy idea. He could–well, on second thought, there’s been so little creative policy thinking in McCain’s campaign that I’m not even going to put this on the list.

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