No Flip Left to Flop?


Tom Edsall has a new article up at Huffington Post gaming out whether there’s any strategic options left for McCain to salvage his collapsing campaign. Tom’s verdict is that there’s one high-stakes hail mary approach: reinventing himself as the anti-Bush Republican — come out against the Republicans’ culture of corruption, K Street and the rest, preach against the sea of red ink and most of all let Bush have it on the colossal fiasco he’s made of Iraq and argue “that conditions in Iraq are so terrible that withdrawal is now the only reasonable alternative; that resources and taxpayer dollars should be put into Afghanistan and into supporting anti-terrorist activities in Pakistan, Africa and South Asia – not to mention an infusion of cash into domestic security.”

To say this is a hail mary pass is, I think, something of an understatement. It strikes me more as an antic counterfactual on the lines of that classic Saturday Night Live sketch ‘What if Spartacus had a piper cub’? What if John McCain hadn’t flipflopped on pretty much everything he’d stood for from the very late 1990s through around 2003 instead of casting his lot with George W. Bush in an attempted political merger that makes AOL-TimeWarner look like a shrewd deal.

One of the lesser problems, K Street and the culture of corruption — that’s just so yesterday. Don’t get me wrong. The issues are no less important. And you have to figure that shark’s going to yank Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) under the waves some day pretty soon. So it still makes for good copy. But that train’s definitely left the station. Coming out against Tom DeLay just doesn’t have quite the same crackle now that he’s selling hams on QVC after midnight or whatever he’s doing.

And then of course Iraq. Very hard for me to see how you can base take two of your campaign on the need to leave when take one was based on the need to stay.

And that brings the whole matter into focus. I’m not one for a lot of sentimentality about what might have been with McCain. Put me down with those who think his liberal and moderate acolytes never appreciated the extent of his conservatism on a number of key issues. But the issue for me was less that he was going to become a Democrat — though I suspect that was actually more possible than some realize — than that he was simply an example of an honorable center-right American conservatism.

But you can’t undo the last three-plus years. Someone who is a master of the politics of opportunism can manage countless transformations. Not someone whose whole schtick is candor, authenticity and integrity. McCain is a good example of the fact that life can take almost everything away from you, and usually does. But your dignity you’ve got to give away. And he did.