What the press creates, the press destroys. And what the press destroys, the press builds back up. The cycle is turning once again for Senator McCain. But don't be fooled by the quacks pointing to fleeting signs of life: This campaign is in a persistent vegetative state.
Once considered by some the unquestionable front-runner for the GOP nomination (despite every poll showing Mayor Giuliani out front), over the summer the Straight Talker has been having his obituary typed up like a frail pope with a robust head cold. Now, however, the press is ready to declare a McCain "rebound." A Washington Post columnist, David Broder, recently said Mr. McCain has found his footing; the Manchester Union-Leader penned an editorial heralding, "A comeback begun," and the Arizona Republic said, "McCain is on the rise."
It's only a matter of time before Newsweek runs a cover declaring Mr. McCain "The Comeback Kid" or some other such nonsense.
Humbug — to put it politely. Mr. McCain certainly has seen a bounce since August, when he bottomed out with national numbers such as 7% in the Fox News poll and 11% in the Quinnipiac poll. Now, he's back up to an average of around 15%, exactly where he was in July and 10 points down from where he was in January. So, yes, call it a bounce — like a dead cat hitting the pavement.
What hasn't changed, however, are the fundamental reasons Mr. McCain won't win the Republican nomination:
• He has no money: Mr. McCain's second-quarter fund raising showed him well behind his opponents, and the fact that he only had $2 million cash on hand in July forced him to lay off practically his whole campaign staff. We won't know about Mr. McCain's third-quarter fund raising until the next reports are due to the Federal Election Commission in mid-October, but there's no reason to believe he's suddenly struck gold.
• He has an extremely limited base of support: Mr. McCain's political strength has always been more pronounced among independents than among Republicans. Independents won't, for the most part, be voting in the GOP primaries in 2008 (as opposed to 2000, when many did in New Hampshire). What's more, there's no sign that Mr. McCain's embrace of the Iraq troop surge has turned around his fortunes with hardcore Republicans. Data from the latest NBC-Wall Street Journal poll shows that his support among Republicans who think the war has been "worth it" and those who don't is identical — and underwhelming.
• His early-state strategy is doomed: With no money and virtually no organization, Mr. McCain has retrenched to an early-state-only strategy. Unfortunately, two out of the three traditional early states are essentially out of the senator's reach. In Iowa (which Mr. McCain skipped entirely in 2000, and where he skipped the Straw Poll this year), Mr. McCain is currently in single digits and fourth place, behind even Mike Huckabee. Mitt Romney, meanwhile, has essentially purchased the state. In South Carolina, Mr. McCain is in a distant third place, behind Mr. Giuliani and Fred Thompson; Mr. McCain's immigration positioned killed him in the Palmetto State, and he's not likely to overtake the former star of "Law & Order" and new favorite son of Dixie in this first-in-the-South primary. New Hampshire may be Mr. McCain's best chance at an early win, but even there he's in a distant third place, behind Messrs. Romney and Giuliani; if anyone should love Mr. McCain, it's the Granite State, and so far, it's not showing him the love.
Worst of all for Mr. McCain, even if he could pick up one out of three early states, he had to shut down his entire organization in Florida, which votes on January 29 and will determine who has the momentum going into the February 5 Super Duper Tuesday primaries, when 20 or more states are expected to vote.
So, as the stories inevitably come heralding the resurgence of John McCain, here's a handy tip as to whether you should believe them: When either Mr. Giuliani or Mr. Thompson starts attacking the war hero whose endorsement they both want, then you'll know he poses a serious threat. Until then, it's all just the latest bogus trend story.