The Note: Fatal Diseases


The Republican field shrank by one over the weekend -- and no, we're not referring to Sen. John McCain, who is vowing that only "contracting a fatal disease" would force him to drop out. We're not sure if these woes are classified as terminal campaign illnesses, but here are a few symptoms of something serious: mass defections; almost no money in the bank; no prospects for starting to raise real cash; looking like you're replaying yesterday's news; and positions that are out-of-step with the Republican base as well as the country as a whole.

The money woes are perhaps McCain's most serious challenge (can anyone offer a plausible theory for how he turns that around?), and they're not limited to the Arizona Republican. Second-quarter fund-raising reports show Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., opening huge leads on all of their rivals in both parties. "Both surpassed the $32.7 million that President George W. Bush had to spend at the end of June 2003," Bloomberg's Jonathan Salant and Timothy Burger write. "The two Democrats have more than twice as much to spend as Republican frontrunners Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney."

What's driving it? We can talk about the Democrats' leg up in Internet organizing, or the experienced finance teams put together by Obama or Clinton, but it all comes back to an unpopular war that's closely linked to the GOP -- and will be back in the spotlight in Congress this week. The Senate may not pass anything meaningful, and Congress almost certainly can't force the president to change course before this fall, but that misses the broader point: Bush and McCain -- those old rivals from 2000 -- have each other's company in having lost the public on the war. And -- though this is taking a bit longer -- they're losing Congress, too.

Forget Chuck Hagel and Olympia Snowe -- the real ominous sign for the White House and its allies is the resolution being offered by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Sen. John Warner, R-Va. -- a pair of Republican elder statesmen, pleading with the president to develop a new plan and submit an entirely new war authorization bill. Keeping in mind that the Iraqi parliament's decision to flee the Baghdad heat in August is unlikely to yield much in the way of results, how much longer can Bush and McCain hold out hope? "What we're looking for now are plans that are much more realistic for the use of our troops in Iraq, in the Middle East, and worldwide," Lugar told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week."

McCain has made clear that he's foursquare behind the president -- hardly a good starting place for what's now an insurgent candidacy. A campaign shake-up is not life-altering stuff, though McCain looks plain awful in the aftermath of his campaign's implosion. The Washington Post's breakdown of the breakup has top aides overestimating fund-raising capabilities by laughable sums -- the original budget called for $45 million in the bank by this point in the campaign, not the $3.2 million in actual cash McCain has on hand (not to mention $1.8 million in campaign debts). "Work it out," he told his warring fashions in January, per the Post's Michael Shear, Dan Balz, and Chris Cillizza. Sounds like the type of stern message the president is delivering to the Iraqi government -- and it had about as big an impact.

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