A clean campaign? The thing’s been done.

Has McCain decided to keep the bigotry out of his campaign? It’s possible.

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.

Update Ross Douthat doubts that the race-and-religion line of attack could actually be made to work:

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.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com