When the campaign obituary is written -- or (why not be charitable -- it's only July) the miracle script has finished filming -- the mid-summer McCain mayhem of 2007 will be remembered for the series of inexorably linked events that talked straighter than the candidate ever will himself. The immigration issue contributed to money woes, which led to staff turmoil that didn't contain profligate spending, all of which reinforced message meandering that turned a maverick mainstream -- and everything culminated in the debacle that was yesterday.
As Sen. John McCain took the Senate floor to offer observations on Iraq -- the very moment, in short, that his party, his country, and his campaign needed him most -- his campaign office was announcing the bizarre double-resignation of the campaign manager and chief strategist. (This is no simple reshuffling: One of them was working for free, and the other was McCain's political brain since his 2000 run.) The spin: McCain takes control. The subtext: This campaign is in freefall, and no one is in charge -- up to and including the candidate who let it all get this far. "There is no purpose here," the Arizona Republican told reporters off the Senate floor. Precisely.
He has no money, a diminished and demoralized staff, and a party base that's pausing long enough only to pity a solid man who's been running a squishy operation that's now on death watch. McCain himself is "agitated and humiliated" to have seen his campaign fall so far so fast, report The New York Times' Adam Nagourney and David Kirkpatrick, and the departure of Terry Nelson and John Weaver "was the culmination of months of internal feuding." It was "a development that left his team gutted, transfixed both parties and raised new doubts about his ability to continue in the race," they write.
Per ABC's John Berman, Nelson was pushed out, and Weaver quit because he can't work with new campaign manager Rick Davis. Three other top aides joined them on their way out the door, and even Mark Salter (McCain's co-author on five books and longtime chief of staff) left his day-to-day duties with the campaign. As for what's next -- it's hard to see the argument that gets McCain where he needs to be. At the very least, the campaign of a former front-runner now becomes a last-man-standing exercise, and an expected coronation turns into a painful slog. "The physicians have left the room, and now it's the executors of the will taking over," analyst Charlie Cook tells McCain's hometown Arizona Republic.
Perhaps the only good thing McCain has going for him at this moment -- and the strongest argument against him getting out with his dignity intact -- is that his rivals are deeply flawed candidates who have shown no signs of wrapping anything up. "No candidate has managed to break from the pack, and many GOP activists are still looking for what they regard as a reliable conservative and strong standard-bearer for what is shaping up as a challenging general election," write Dan Balz and Anne Kornblut of The Washington Post. "But among the leading candidates, no one faces more difficulties than McCain."