McCain’s last narrative (hopefully) is the one we’ve heard before from every single Republican candidate in the past 30 years.
But that’s where he is now…not fighting the past, but embracing it…
Having fallen back on the most clichÃ©d of political story lines â€” the devil you know versus the devil you donâ€™t â€” only to see the negative tactic boomerang, Schmidt and his colleagues cobbled together one last narrative with less than a month to go. Kicking it off at an event in Virginia Beach on Oct. 13, McCain delivered a speech that did not mention â€œmaverick,â€ or â€œcountry first,â€ or â€œno surrender.â€ The new motif was a hybrid of the previous five story lines, especially the first. Mentioning some version of the word â€œfightâ€ 19 times, McCain was once again a warrior â€” only more upbeat, more respectful of his opponent, more empathetic to suffering Americans and far more disapproving of the president. Rick Davis told me in September, â€œThe worst scenario for Obama is if he winds up running against the McCain of 2000,â€ an authentic independent. But if this was the McCain that was now emerging, it was awfully late in the game, and he was encumbered by other versions of McCain gone awry.
In the final debate on Oct. 15 at Hofstra University on Long Island, McCain barely mentioned any version of the word â€œfightâ€ but performed forcefully, perhaps even indignantly. By the time Steve Schmidt entered the postdebate spin room, his Obama counterpart, David Axelrod, had already been holding the floor for 20 minutes. Schmidt wore a pinstripe suit and his blue eyes carried a victorâ€™s gleam. Like every other McCain aide I encountered that night, he was convinced not only that the senator had turned in his best performance but that viewers would see him as the clear winner. […]
At the hotel bar where many of them lingered into the late hours, I asked one of them whether the debate could make a difference at this late stage. The adviser maintained that regardless of the instant-poll numbers, Joe the plumber and other talking points would likely resonate in the weeks to come.
Then the adviser said with a helpless smile, â€œHopefully thatâ€™ll change the narrative.â€