John McCain: Cool and consistent

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.

Socialist-Marxist? 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.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.