In discussing Republican politics, the more cynical explanation is usually the better one. But I’m inclined to disagree with Josh Marshall about the significance of McCain denouncing Bill Cunningham and the RNC telling the Tennessee Republican Party to clean up its act around the “Obama is a Muslim” theme. It looks to me like a decision to forgo that tactic.
It’s possible that they’ve polled and focus-grouped this stuff and decided that it costs them more in independent vote and mobilizing Democrats than it gains them in turning out their own base or de-mobilizing Obama’s. It’s possible that they’re hoping to get Obama to lay off some of the really mean stuff he could throw at McCain (through surrogates, of course). Or it’s (barely) possible that McCain’s sense of honor has actually kicked in.
Given the anti-Republican trend this year, I don’t see how McCain can win a clean campaign. But that doesn’t mean he won’t try running one.
Maybe having right-wing talk radio hosts make Obama-Osama cracks will actually help McCain, rather than just make conservatives look like moronic frat boys. Anything’s possible. But at the moment it seems as though going down the race-card path wouldn’t be some brilliant machiavellian move on the part of the McCain camp, as Halperin suggests, but the purest sort of folly.