Happy Independence Day, John McCain! I hope you get this message down in Mexico. Senator McCain has been traveling for the last few days, and upon his return north, to the United States, he will find that his campaign is still headed south.
Judging by the polls, the more people see of John McCain, the less they like him. The problem for McCain is simple: he has a reputation as a maverick, and a straight-shooter, but almost all of his appearances prove that he is neither of those; instead, he proves to be all over the map on the most important issues of the day, and he frequently shows a real lack of understanding regarding the issues.
It's reminiscent of what happens when a Hollywood actor or a famous athlete lets you into their lives and thus loses their hard-earned mystique. You find out you liked them just fine before you knew a lot about them. Take Tom Cruise. The guy was the top box office star in the world, and then he went on the "Today" show and let Matt Lauer know his thoughts on psychiatry and pharmaceuticals. We didn't need to know -- it was great to remember him as the fighter pilot from "Top Gun."
The more we see of John McCain, the more we think of him not as the maverick or the pilot - no "Top Gun" references intended -- but as the politician, the say-and-do anything with which we are all too familiar.
A Republican of the Teddy Roosevelt tradition on the environment? Now he's for off-shore drilling. Against Guantanamo? Now he's disgusting with the Supreme Court's view that we need to give prisoners rights of Habeas Corpus. Tax cuts? Against them without spending cuts, but now he's for them.
McCain has also put himself in a deep hole with his lack of knowledge on the issues. Take the economy -- McCain's famous quote from December: "The issue of economics is not something I've understood as well as I should. I've got Greenspan's book."
That's a quote that McCain will regret for a long time. But McCain has had more of these statements that I'm certain he wishes he could take back, and as he continues to hold Town Hall meetings, there will be countless statements that come back to haunt him.
Already, Senator McCain has emerged as the underdog in the race against Senator Obama. The Republican Party is hugely unpopular. Senator McCain will have less money to spend than his competition. There have been changes at his campaign due to mismanagement.
McCain will have several chances to catch up to Obama. He will have the Republican Convention and the debates. But his first opportunity to close ground will be when he selects a running mate. And here's some unsolicited advice for Senator McCain: go long. Throw deep. Go Hail Mary.
You're facing a losing battle, and a conventional pick is not going to help. You have to change the game plan, shake things up. Bobby Jindal was never going to be your pick. He's too young. Mitt Romney is the "play it safe" choice that Democrats want you to make. Wait, I'm a Democrat. Pick Mitt Romney! Tim Pawlenty is a reasonable choice, but where does that get you?
No, I believe that John McCain has to move away from George W. Bush, and away from his own mistakes. He has to pick someone who'll change the conversation. Charlie Christ is a possibility. The George Hamilton of Florida may give McCain the state, and that's not a bad idea. Tom Ridge may help McCain in Pennsylvania, also not bad. But if I'm McCain, I go with one of these two:
Mike Bloomberg. Helps with the independents that McCain needs. Is considered an authority on the economy. Will bring Jewish voters into the McCain camp. New York's not in play, but portions of Pennsylvania and Florida are up for grabs.
Colin Powell. Yes, even though he spoke so forcefully for the Iraq war. He knows he made a tragic mistake. He may believe he can make up for it by supporting the surge and by saying that he would put a new face on American politics. Would he run against the history-making candidacy of Obama? Probably not, but it's worth asking.
Either of those two VP nominees would shake up the race. McCain needs that. A Pawlenty's not going to do it. He needs to create some excitement. He cannot match the sense of history that Obama's campaign has going for it. But in his VP choice, McCain should play the maverick.
Ah, who am I kidding. Powell's not going to run with McCain -- I bet he supports Obama, and the same for Bloomberg. No, McCain's going to go with a safer choice. Pawlenty. Mark Sanford of South Carolina. Romney. McCain's going to play it safe, and that's one of the reason why I wish that he remained John McCain, maverick, war hero, straight talker.