The conventional wisdom that John McCain's remarkable powers of resurrection that captured the Republican nomination and that current polls showing him outperforming the generic Republican in a race with Obama or Hillary means that he will be a formidable general election candidate is false. He will get clobbered.
It is already apparent that John McCain will not fare well in the glare of a one-on-one general election campaign against an opponent with a cogent alternative to the disastrous policies of the last 8 years.
In order to keep McCain in the game, the mainstream media -- McCain's 'base' -- will not jump on him for repeated inconsistencies, gaffes and just plain stupidity. But, this is a new era, with online newspapers, blogs, citizen reporters, YouTube.
Even outside the glare of one-on-one that he now enjoys, McCain has already experienced many instances of being completely wrong (the factions in Iraq), tone deaf (response to the housing crisis), or mired in the past (another 'free-market' fix to health care). Coupled with his age, even the media will not be able to create confidence in the American people that McCain is their future. And, once in the glare of the public spotlight, he will no longer be able to hide.
For ratings purposes the MSM wants to create the myth of a close race. They want viewers without doing any work or analysis that costs money.
The conventional wisdom is superficial, at best.
How about a dose of reality: McCain captured the Republican nomination by winning the large states with large delegate numbers but that no Republican will win in a general election. For these states his competition was too radical right, or just too lame, or both. In the South and Midwest he would not have won if Huckabee had dropped out, and thus not split the evangelical vote with Romney.
Has anyone forgotten that even the Republican electorate was unhappy with all its choices? Consider McCain's opponents: Fred Thompson, the great white hope, entered late, campaigned lazily, and most resembled the Uncle Trusty character in Lady & the Tramp. Yet, he polled in second or third in most states before he was even running. Mitt Romney had to reverse by 180-degrees all of his previously stated positions. His credibility among Republicans did not run very deep. Rudy Giuliani tried never to engage in an actual election, constantly retreating much like Lenin did to seize power in Russia during World War I; the self-styled hero of 9/11 (whose arrogance actually cost 100s of lives) was in perpetual retreat. That, and his weird personal behavior and family life, endeared him in the end to no one.
My guess is that the Reverend Huckabee could not abide a Mormon winning the evangelical vote, and stayed in the race for that reason alone.
Not exactly a riveting case that McCain is a skilled campaigner. Moreover, it was only McCain's base, the mainstream press, that kept him alive by providing free publicity and thus credibility, while he was bankrupt and unable to afford much paid advertising.
McCain's current poll numbers reveal his lack of appeal. Obama and Hillary are pummeling one another, raising both of their negatives, and McCain is only able to get close in the polls when he has his side of the ledger all to himself.
Nothing that can happen in the 'real world' will help McCain. If, as they did in 2004, the Bush administration raises the terror alert 5 times between September and November (and since November 2004, they have not raised it once!) to play the fear card, the American people will not buy the argument that another Bush-like national security policy would be successful. If they do not raise the terror alert, then McCain fades into irrelevancy.
Should the economy weaken further, McCain is not exactly the warm&fuzzy persona that comes to peoples' minds to help them. And the chances, unfortunately, are zero of the economy becoming so strong that middle class Americans will suddenly feel as if they are getting ahead.
McCain has an inescapable dilemma: none of his nostrums will be credible because they will be in the mold of right wing mythology or they will be rejected by the right wing for not being in that mold.
Even seniors, his co-generationalists, will not vote for him, because they (who know what is feels like to be 72-76) will not feel that he is up to the job physically. Moreover, he is an "old" 72: 5 years of getting beaten in a POW camp will age you.
Hillary would beat him, handily.
Obama will trounce him. That is because he will bring in so many new voters who will actually vote that states that are currently considered out of reach will be in-play.
Obama represents the future for Generations X and Y. These voters cannot even conceive that when Barack Obama was born, he would not be permitted to drink from certain water fountains, nor wade in the kiddy-pools, in many states. To them, it is incomprehensible that that happened in their parents' lifetimes.
For boomers Obama represents the last chance to see in their lifetimes the different world they wanted to create that was stolen from them by the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King.
On a psychological level this election will be about the future vs. the past.
John McCain is no one's future.