The Corner

Why the McCain Campaign Needs Bill Kristol (or Someone Like Him)

I’ve been thinking lately that Bill Kristol should take a leave of absence for a couple of months and go help out on the McCain campaign. McCain has been nothing if not energetic (giving a majorish speech almost every day). He has scored day-to-day tactical victories over Obama, as this Washington Post story noted. But the sum is less than the parts. Worse, McCain’s political persona seems to be getting lost.

Take energy. There was another McCain conference call on it today. It was painful to listen to Sen. Lindsey Graham pound Obama for saying “no” to every energy proposal, then have to explain (kind of half-heartedly, I thought) why McCain says “no” to drilling on ANWR. If McCain was going to semi-flip on drilling, he probably should have gone all the way and done it in a big way (e.g., hold some sort of conference on energy, or spend a week touring ANWR and off-shore drilling platforms). Then, there was the matter of the contradiction between his new somewhat pro-drilling stance and his continued high-profile advocacy on global warming. I think if McCain could get his own house in order on this issue, he would really do serious damage to Obama.  

But there’s a sense you never know where McCain is going to be on any given day. Is he zigging toward the center, or zagging right? And on top of this, the campaign feels so defensive–all about not being Bush and not being Obama. 

All of this is diminishing McCain, who is a serious, impressive guy for all his flaws. With every clever tactic and worthy small-bore proposal–whether it’s off-shore drilling or the battery prize–McCain loses a tiny bit more of his stature and his sense of who he is. He needs to be bigger than Obama to win the election, and he needs his political persona–as a patriotic fighter determined to fix Washington and win the war–to come out clearly and unmistakably. 

I think some new blood–focused just on the big picture–would help the McCain team. My candidate would be Kristol. He obviously has a keen political mind; he’s a McCain guy going way back (and as far as I know has a good relationship with McCain’s key people); and he’s a conservative who understands the need to move beyond the Bush administration without being panicked by every Bush association.  

Anyway, that’s my suggestion. Maybe someone else would make more sense. Or maybe this big-picture focus can be generated by folks already there. But here’s hoping we see it one way or the other…

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