On Politics On PoliticsOn Politics
Analysis and perspective about what's happening in the political realm.

Early Exit

After several senior staffers resigned from Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign on Tuesday, many observers wondered, "When will McCain drop out?" The answer probably depends on the definition of "out."

The beleaguered Arizona Republican will likely remain a candidate in the technical sense until the end of the year so that he can qualify for federal matching funds and pay off his campaign debts. When McCain's anemic financial figures started leaking out, political reporters focused on how little money the campaign had raised, how much it had spent, and how puny its cash-on-hand total was for the second consecutive quarter. Nobody asked about the debt.

For all intents and purposes, McCain's campaign is over. The physicians have pulled up the sheet; the executors of the estate are taking over. Paying bills and winding down -- not strategizing, organizing, and getting a message out -- will be the order of the day.

So what ruined McCain's campaign? The senator didn't have one problem; he had several. The impression he made on Republican activists and voters during his 2000 presidential bid was as a maverick, a reformer, a contender with a strong independent streak who rode the "Straight Talk Express."

Many journalists sucked down the Kool-Aid, falling in love with a Republican who sounded candid and irreverent. But eight years ago, McCain and his camp learned the hard way that mavericks can get great press, but they don't get nominated. As Bill Bradley discovered that year, the party members and activists who decide presidential nominations see "maverick" as the opposite of "team player."

Heading into the 2008 campaign, McCain sought to reposition himself as a team player, paying homage at Liberty University to evangelicals, courting other social conservatives, and mending fences with party officials. He stuck to the party line as much as he was capable of doing, saying the things the GOP rank and file wanted to hear.

But on the way from maverick to team player, McCain ended up stuck in political purgatory. GOP voters no longer saw him as a straight talker and straight shooter, but the Republican establishment never embraced him. To many conservatives, McCain's campaign finance reform law is proof that he is neither a real conservative nor a reliable Republican. They view campaign finance reform as an inherently liberal effort that only hurts the GOP.

So one group no longer trusts McCain, and the other never did. Meanwhile, the love-stricken media passengers on the 2000 Straight Talk Express feel betrayed that their maverick went establishment on them.

McCain's second problem is Iraq, of course. Although many Democrats and independents fervently oppose the war, most Republicans still support Bush and the war. But Republicans' intensity of support has waned as the war has become an albatross around their party's neck. They cannot afford to nominate a presidential candidate whose name has become synonymous with the surge.

Then there is immigration. McCain's presidential hopes didn't need another nail in the coffin, but immigration provided one. Regardless of the merits or substance of the comprehensive immigration package that McCain endorsed, no one could sell it within the GOP in 2007. Dubbed "amnesty" by its foes, the legislation became radioactive, and supporting it was untenable for any GOP presidential candidate.

Finally, it shouldn't be a shock that someone whose penchant for campaign finance reform and disdain for fundraising are legendary couldn't raise enough money. McCain doesn't enjoy asking for money, isn't great at it -- and didn't put his campaign in the hands of people who loved it, were good at it, and were willing to crack heads to make sure the senator's followers delivered on their pledges. McCain assembled a world-class campaign operation, but it lacked a sufficiently powerful money-generating engine.

The seeds for the demise of McCain's candidacy were planted before this campaign began. His strong-minded views put him at odds with the lowest-common-denominator nature of American politics these days. Like it or not, politics today is about trimming one's views to fit what's popular, and John McCain is not a trimmer.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Going Agile:Revolutionizing Federal Digital Services Delivery

    Here’s one indication that times have changed: Harriet Tubman is going to be the next face of the twenty dollar bill. Another sign of change? The way in which the federal government arrived at that decision.

  • Cyber Risk Report: Cybercrime Trends from 2016

    In our first half 2016 cyber trends report, SurfWatch Labs threat intelligence analysts noted one key theme – the interconnected nature of cybercrime – and the second half of the year saw organizations continuing to struggle with that reality. The number of potential cyber threats, the pool of already compromised information, and the ease of finding increasingly sophisticated cybercriminal tools continued to snowball throughout the year.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • GBC Issue Brief: The Future of 9-1-1

    A Look Into the Next Generation of Emergency Services

  • GBC Survey Report: Securing the Perimeters

    A candid survey on cybersecurity in state and local governments

  • The New IP: Moving Government Agencies Toward the Network of The Future

    Federal IT managers are looking to modernize legacy network infrastructures that are taxed by growing demands from mobile devices, video, vast amounts of data, and more. This issue brief discusses the federal government network landscape, as well as market, financial force drivers for network modernization.

  • eBook: State & Local Cybersecurity

    CenturyLink is committed to helping state and local governments meet their cybersecurity challenges. Towards that end, CenturyLink commissioned a study from the Government Business Council that looked at the perceptions, attitudes and experiences of state and local leaders around the cybersecurity issue. The results were surprising in a number of ways. Learn more about their findings and the ways in which state and local governments can combat cybersecurity threats with this eBook.


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.