While Hillary Clinton and Jeremiah Wright continue to clobber the likely Democratic nominee, John McCain is slowly working his way toward a domestic policy agenda for the general election. Last week, he focused on economic difficulties in the rust belt and the south, offering the outlines of some human capital and pro-family tax reform ideas. This week he’s talking about health care, and although his brief remarks yesterday and a new ad just rolled out were pretty flat, his speech laying out his health care agenda in Florida this morning has got to rank as the best formulation of the Republican health care message to date (that’s a pretty low bar, to be sure, but this is a serious step in the right direction).
I think McCain still lacks an overriding theme to tie his various proposals and messages together (the language of institutional reform, which used to be his mantra, is a natural candidate, though he has not picked it up much this year). But the elements of his agenda do seem to be coming together.
None of this has made much news these past two weeks, and it doesn’t seem like the campaign is really trying to make much news. They’re honing their message and rehearsing for the summer and fall. But if these are the elements of the message — an appeal to blue collar families and a serious case for conservative health care reform — then all the worried conservative wonks around Washington may have less to be depressed about than we thought. It’s a late start, but not at all a bad one. Between these early indications and the evidence that voters trust McCain more than Clinton or Obama on the economy, there may well be room for the right to build a winning case in what increasingly looks to be a domestic policy election.