The John McCain candidacy, launched amid much hope, fanfare, and high expectations, may be dying before our eyes.
Even worse, it may go out with a whimper instead of a bang.
It may not end in an Armageddon style primary defeat, but just dry up from lack of support, money, or interest.
Throughout all of 2006, McCain sat atop the polls right next to Rudy Giuliani. In the Fox News survey of December, 2006, he was getting 27 percent of the Republican primary vote to Rudy's 31 percent. But, after Giuliani announced that he was running, the Arizona senator fell to 24 percent while Rudy soared into the stratosphere at 41 percent of the primary voters. But even when McCain was polling well, he wasn't raising the money he needs for this campaign.
In the last quarter of 2006, during a time when he was tied for front-runner status in the GOP and doing well in general election matchups against likely Democratic rivals like Hillary Clinton, he raised only $1.7 million according to his filing with the Federal Elections Commission.
Even worse, he had less than $500,000 on hand, pocket change in a presidential race and barely adequate for a run for Congress.
Part of McCain's problem was that he wasn't raising money. But the other part has been that he is spending money too rapidly and not on reaching voters but on paying political consultants. One top Republican operative from the old Reagan campaign commented, "McCain has hired every consultant he can find. He has all the top names, but no money."
What is McCain's problem?
Why did he go from the most exciting candidate in the race a year ago to the verge of oblivion today?
Fundamentally, he failed to heed the Shakespeare's admonition "to thine own self be true." The John McCain of the 2000 campaign is nowhere in evidence in 2007.
Instead of challenging the party establishment, he pathetically waits at its door, hoping to be invited. Where he used to challenge the religious right, he now panders to them. Once he led the battle against big tobacco, for corporate governance reform, in favor of campaign financing changes, and in support of action against global warming.
Now he has been identified with two issues, neither popular in the Republican Party: The Iraqi troop surge and amnesty for illegal aliens.
Rather than stake out an independent voice apart from the Bush administration, he has become the last survivor at Custer's Last Stand in its support of its policies.
Republican strategist and Reagan campaign manager Ed Rollins makes an interesting point about McCain: He has switched roles. He has gone from being the McCain of the 2000 race, challenging the party orthodoxy, offering new ideas, and demanding reforms and changes to the Bush of the 2000, toeing the party line and only timidly venturing different ideas if he advances them at all. And this is no way to win the presidency or even the Republican nomination. But where it has counted, on the two core issues that move Republican voters these days tax cuts and immigration McCain is badly out of step with the GOP base.
He voted against the Bush tax cuts, the only real success of the administration and the main accomplishment of the president's first term. On immigration, his bill, cosponsored by Ted Kennedy, permits illegal aliens to become citizens without returning to their native lands and seeking legal entry.
Both positions run afoul of the deepest views of the Republican primary electorate. But beyond the substantive problems with the McCain candidacy, he has simply failed to impress the American public with his performance on the television talk shows that are the core of this year's pre-primary nominating process.
He looks small, shrunken, weak, cowed, and timid. He shows all of his 70 years of age including the roughly lived period at the hands of the tender mercies of the North Vietnamese. It is hard to imagine him as a strong leader as he meekly answers questions from the likes of Tim Russert and George Stephanopoulos.
other problem can be summed up in one word: Rudy.
Giuliani, with extensive management experience and a track record of heroism on 9/11, projects a strong image of leadership and a kind of charisma that McCain has trouble matching.
The excitement Rudy's candidacy has generated has swelled his poll numbers at a time when McCain, who announced too early and campaigned for too long, was fading. As Rudy surged in January 2007, it was clear that McCain had peaked too soon.
Has Giuliani, too, peaked too soon?
Perhaps he has. But the nominating process for the 2008 election seems destined to be a very early one.
With many major states advancing their primaries to early February, 2008, and the 24/7 cable talk shows and Internet Web sites focusing full time on the race, the evaluation of the candidates may be complete before the first votes are cast.
Since only the front-runner in the autumn of 2007 is likely to be able to generate the campaign ca sh to afford to advertise and campaign simultaneously in all the big states that are advancing their primary dates, it is probable that whoever is ahead at the end of 2007 in each party will be the nominee.
In view of this early calendar, Rudy seems to have peaked at the right time while McCain is fading badly.
Rudy also surges at a time when the other candidates are disappearing from the Republican nominating process. In addition to McCain's swoon, the other possible top contender, Mitt Romney has stalled and is falling backwards. His flip-flop-flip from pro-life to pro-choice and back to pro-life again is not winning him any converts.
Before he ran for senator against Kennedy in Massachusetts, he was pro-life. Then, as he ventured into America's most liberal state as a Republican candidate, he said that his experience with a relative who died after an illegal abortion led him to reconsider his stand on the issue. "I will protect and defend a woman's right to choose" he said as he campaigned for the governorship after losing his Senate bid against Kennedy. But after he had been re-elected as governor and began to focus on a possible presidential race, Romney rediscovered his roots and began to "evolve" on the issue back to a pro-life position, a change which isn't fooling anybody or satisfying either side.
On the issue of homosexuality, Romney promised during their debates to be a better friend of gay rights than Kennedy had been. But now he is campaigning on an anti-gay marriage platform.
Beyond these two legitimate issues, Romney is, unfortunately, paying a steep price for his Mormon faith, something that should not be an issue in this campaign . . . but is.
If Newt Gingrich doesn't enter the race, who is there who can challenge Rudy Giuliani?
If Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination, it will be Hillary vs. Rudy in the battle of the giants. And poor John McCain will go back to the Senate.