The consensus seems now to have settled down that John McCain’s campaign behavior has been erratic and temperamental. Certainly that was the Obama campaign’s narrative.
In fact, McCain has been about as consistent as can be: whatever Steve Schmidt tells him to do, he does. Since Schmidt is obsessed about the news cycle, and has determined that McCain can win only by a scorched-earth, Rovian, racially-tinged campaign, that’s what McCain does.
All of the things that observers have seen as erratic have in fact been Schmidt’s ideas, and carried through.
The Palin nomination? Check.
“Suspending” the campaign? Check.
Declaring victory 3 days after this “suspension”? Check.
Obama is too brown for America? Check.
This only looks erratic because Schmidt’s focus on the news cycle and attack mentality needs a new story every day. Every day, after all, Obama will say something. Thus, every day, Schmidt will find a way to lie about it.
Most importantly, you can’t win a news cycle every day without coming up with a new spin on the basic story, because reporters will get bored with it. Rove did the same thing: one day Kerry was a flip-flopper, the next day he was French, the next day he was an elitist windsurfer. Theme and variations. The difference is that this year the fundamentals are so bad, and Obama is so talented (and well-financed) that it doesn’t work.
So McCain has actually been incredibly disciplined. Give the old guy some credit.
UPDATE: Similarly, Francis Fukuyama underestimates him (h/t Sullivan):
McCain’s appeal was always that he could think for himself, but as the campaign has progressed, he has seemed simply erratic and hotheaded. His choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate was highly irresponsible; we have suffered under the current president who entered office without much knowledge of the world and was easily captured by the wrong advisers. McCain’s lurching from Reaganite free-marketer to populist tribune makes one wonder whether he has any underlying principles at all.
This is unfair. McCain has one underlying principle: he wants to win. Nothing else matters. In order to do that, he will listen to Schmidt. Pretty straightforward, in my view.