Will They Notice?

July 18, 2008 1:54 p.m.

As you know, I occasionally do posts suggesting taunting that newspaper beat reporters recognize a campaign trend that hasn’t yet distilled into the media narrative. But here I think the trend is becoming so unmistakable that I’m really starting to wonder.

Over the last ten days or so, the President and the McCain campaign (who are clearly working in coordination, as they’re entirely entitled to do) have been systematically drawing back from their positions on Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran and either fully embracing or moving toward those held for some time by Barack Obama.

Let’s run the list.

McCain and now the White House (via the DOD) are moving toward more US troops in Afghanistan — a position they’ve each long opposed and which Obama has been on record in support of for at least a year.

Bush and McCain have each also in different ways tried to nudge closer to Obama’s position on withdrawing troops from Iraq. The key shoe falling today is President Bush’s embrace of a “time horizon” for withdrawing troops from Iraq. Meanwhile, McCain’s declaration of military victory in Iraq seems very much like an effort to get people thinking the troops are coming home soon within the conceptual architecture of his professed goals in Iraq.

And finally Iran. I’m not certain what McCain himself has said about Iran in recent days. But over recent months a key line of attack from the president and John McCain has been that Obama is a latter-day Neville Chamberlain for saying we should negotiate with Iran. And now over recent days we’ve learned that the White House is sending one of its top diplomats to negotiate directly with Iran’s nuclear negotiator. And there are growing signs the White House is poised to open a diplomatic interests section (an unofficial diplomatic outpost) in Tehran.

In the case of Iran, the flashpoint has been meetings between heads of state. So there’s not a direct equation. And McCain’s and Bush’s supporters can still point to this as the bright line they have not and will not cross.

But when the spin is wiped away, for all the scrutiny and hand-wringing about the nuances about Obama’s 16 months, there’s simply no denying that all the real movement at this point in the campaign shows Bush/McCain trying to nudge closer to the ground Obama already holds.

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