It’s 5:00 p.m. on the East Coast and the Dow Jones has closed down 370 points for the day. At one point, it was down 800, the largest one day drop in history– breaking last week’s record.
C-SPAN just aired John McCain’s rally in New Mexico, and it looked like it was taking place on a different planet. McCain’s entire speech was focused on what you don’t know about Barack Obama, what you need to know about Barack Obama, why you shouldn’t trust Barack Obama. It went into his record as a state senator, his votes on taxes, his associations with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac chairpersons. At one point, McCain started talking about a planetarium in Chicago for some reason. No joke, a planetarium.
And the crowd was furious. You would have thought Barack Obama stole their kids’ lunch money. They weren’t cheering, they were clamoring. They were shouting things out, at times interrupting McCain mid-sentence. It didn’t look so much like a political rally as it did an angry mob.
Now, look, I’m just a guy. I’m not getting advice from swarms of political analysts, and I don’t have access to McCain’s internal polling. Maybe their numbers are telling them something I don’t know. But this whole tear Barack Obama down strategy strikes me as staggeringly tone deaf.
McCain’s problem isn’t that voters like Barack Obama too much. McCain’s problem is that voters don’t trust McCain to handle the economy– an economy that is rapidly becoming the only issue in this campaign. Likewise, McCain’s solution isn’t to tap into some bubbling spring of national anti-Obama fury (which, let’s face it, is often just thinly-veiled racism). Even the most skeptical voters, whether they realize it or not, aren’t nearly as afraid of Barack Obama as they are of our tanking economy. McCain’s solution is to build up his own credibility on the current financial crisis. I don’t think it can be overstated what an enormous miscalculation McCain made by suspending his campaign and engaging in all those showy theatrics and political stunts two weeks ago. Whatever credibility he had on the economy prior to that, he needs to get back and then some.
For every crowd of 5,000 in New Mexico who are content to get worked up into a frenzy over a Barack Obama oppo dump, there’s 500,000 other people who don’t care, people who would much rather hear what you plan on doing to keep them in their house, get their small business that loan, or salvage their retirement account. On a day when the stock market took another historic dive, people simply do not care about what some professor in Chicago who served on a charity board with Barack Obama did 40 years ago. They also don’t care about Barack Obama’s record on that planetarium or whatever McCain was rambling on about today. But he is welcome to waste what little time he has talking about it.
Here’s what it boils down to: when it comes to the economy, McCain has no solutions and no message. If he doesn’t get those two things right, it doesn’t matter if Barack Obama served on a charity board with Mohammed Atta, it’s not going to save McCain’s campaign.
On the solutions front, McCain’s middle class tax cut sucks. The reward of fixing that right now (or better yet, two months ago) would outweigh the risk of looking like a Johnny-come-lately. Also, McCain needs badly to break with Bush on something big economically and those unpopular tax cuts for the wealthy would be a fantastic start. Unfortunately, he’s already painted himself into a corner there by swearing on Ronald Reagan’s grave to extend them.
On the message front, McCain needs to stop treating the economy like something his campaign can best deal with by changing the subject. Imagine if 9/11 occured in an election year and dominated the news cycle, and one of the campaigns spent all their resources trying to get the national conversation to something… anything else before November. McCain’s efforts are that futile. Absent another terrorist attack on the homeland in the next month, the economy, the economy, and the economy will be the top three issues in November. It’s time for McCain to get over his denial, stop trying to sweep the economy under the rug, and just do the work of building a coherent message. Oh, and stop talking about earmarks; everybody knows that’s not the problem.
I’ve seen a few people this week on the Democratic side already begin to declare the race over. It’s not over. There’s 30 days and two debates to go, and anything can happen. A month ago, the race was deadlocked; a month from now, it could be again. However, if John McCain continues to waste days on the campaign trail like he did today, he might as well drop out of the race now and endorse Barack Obama.
UPDATE: Here’s a video clip from that McCain rally in New Mexico I was talking about. McCain asks, “Who is the real Barack Obama?” An audience member shouts out, “A terrorist!” I stand by my “angry mob” description.
As Politico’s Jonathan Martin points out:
But even as McCain tries to make the race about Obama’s character, his challenge hovers near: On one part of the screen, McCain delivers his message. On another, the Dow plunges in real time.