Bill Kristol shares,
McCain has been a major figure in American public life for quite a while. And yet his campaign has made him seem somehow smaller. Obama is a first-term senator with no legislative achievements to speak of. His campaign has helped him seem bigger, more presidential.There are two obvious potential explanations for this, and they're not mutually exclusive:
McCain's campaign has lessened him. His eagerness to win has resulted in his moving away from a lot of the positions that once attracted people to him.
Obama is "bigger" and more presidential than McCain.
Even Obama’s adjustments for the general election — his flip-flops — have served in an odd way to enhance his stature. Some of them suggest, after all, that he is at least trying to think seriously about what he would do if he were actually president. So Obama has achieved the important feat, as the campaign has moved on, of seeming an increasingly plausible president. McCain seems a less plausible president today than he did when he clinched the nomination.This is where McCain is hoist on his own petard. He can do little to directly attack Obama as "flip-flopping" as he has done at least as much (to my eye, far more) flip-flopping himself, including on issues that previously defined him (e.g., campaign finance reform, immigration, balanced budgets). When he chooses to mischaracterize Obama as having abandoned prior positions (e.g., his timetable for ending the Iraq War) and that Obama's positions are becoming indistinguishable from his own, that doesn't come across as "straight talk."
In terms of changing his campaign's leadership in order to bounce back,
The current McCain campaign is chock full of G.O.P. establishment types, many of whom aren’t great fans of the irreverent [GOP strategist Mike] Murphy. Murphy’s also made no secret of his low opinion of the Bush-Rove political machine that has produced many of these operatives.And that's a real problem. When you load up your campaign with people whose stock and trade is a type of campaigning you claimed to deplore in 2000 and 2004, you're going to end up with a campaign that is inconsistent with your professed values. And if you decide your ship is sinking, you're going to trigger enormous ripples through your entire campaign if you try to shift it into a new direction that is just as anathematic to the scores of Bush-Rove "do anything to win" types you previously hired.
The McCain campaign this year desperately needs a message and a narrative that is both appropriate for the candidate and for the times. Thinking such a complex challenge through, and executing it, is Murphy’s strength.Wait a minute - isn't McCain's message, "I'm the outsider on the inside; the maverick who stands up to my own party, can bridge the center, and can transform Washington"? If that message has failed, what sort of rebranding could resuscitate McCain's Campaign?