Seth Gitell explains one of the fundamental mistakes of the McCain campaign:
I know from my own reporting that McCain campaign operatives examined the Deval Patrick-Kerry Healey race in 2006. They saw how Healey’s tough law and order ads not only failed but also sent the campaign into a downward spiral. Those mean-spirited [ads] alienated independent swing voters and had no resonance in what was then very much a “change” election. Yet despite that knowledge they made the same mistake.
Gitell’s right, and there’s a larger theme, too. For 10 years, McCain has been campaigning on the idea that he can offer a higher level of leadership and independence. But when it finally came time to deliver, he turned over the single most important political task he’s ever undertaken to “operatives.”
Everyone’s got operatives. In most successful campaigns, though, the operatives work for the candidate. Conversely, in many losing efforts, the candidate ends up doing whatever the operatives tell him or her. That was certainly the case with the hapless Healey, who, in a matter of two weeks, morphed from respected if little-known moderate to right-wing nut.
There is no such thing as candidates who are better than their campaigns.