Beware the Game-Changer
In the past few days, the McCain campaign has entered into dangerous territory with the political narrative currently being crafted by the national media and key political observers. I am not talking here about the William Ayers, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and Tony Rezko mudslinging. I have already discussed why I think that approach has run its course.
Instead, the McCain campaign should be very concerned that the national media and key political observers have begun talking about the presidential race almost exclusively in terms of John McCain’s need for a game-changer. In fact, most of the coverage and analysis of Tuesday night’s debate was driven by the political narrative that McCain needed the debate to be a game-changer, and it turned out not to be one for him.
Even if the McCain campaign genuinely believes that the entire mainstream media is in the tank for Barack Obama, it cannot afford to have the overarching political narrative of the race be constrained by the idea that McCain needs to pivot his electoral fortunes on a dime with a single spectacular speech, debate performance, or campaign event. If anything, I think the media is itching to write a McCain comeback story, in order to keep its huge national audience tied into the race. But its current preoccupation with the game-changer metaphor is a real problem for the McCain campaign. With the final presidential debate only days away, it can’t afford to have all of its moves viewed through that single lens.
Plus, if the McCain campaign actually buys into the game-changer narrative, then it is more likely to risk flailing through a succession of political stunts and public relations gimmicks, in order to quickly reverse course. My sense is that McCain’s best hope for getting out of the grip of the game-changer metaphor is to retool with a more focused and optimistic economic message, one which is much clearer about what it would mean for the middle class, and how it would differ from the Bush Administration’s approach to the economy. Absent that change, I’m not so sure he’s still in the game.

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