McCain's slow motion riot

Bill Kristol's latest column may presage further changes inside John McCain's presidential campaign.

Published July 7, 2008 1:01PM (EDT)

(Note: this is Ed Kilgore, managing editor of The Democratic Strategist. I'll be trying to follow Steve Benen's prodigious posting as a guest-blogger in War Room this week).

Looks like John McCain's presidential campaign may continue to go through an unusually extended series of "shake-ups."

Last week campaign manager Rick Davis turned over day-to-day operational control of the McCain effort to Steve Schmidt, a disciple of Karl Rove. In the usual mumbo-jumbo of campaign talk, this was spun as a move designed to free up Davis for all sorts of big, strategic tasks. But as Jason Zengerle, an astute observer of McCainland, quickly noted, Davis' new gig looks a lot like consignment to the fundraising tasks he (poorly) supervised before the first big shakeup, a year ago, elevated him at the expense of Terry Nelson and John Weaver, both of whom took a walk.

Even before Schmidt got the keys to the executive washroom, however, rumors were already swirling that another shakeup would soon bring back one of the big names from the 2000 McCain campaign, either "strategist" Mike Murphy or onetime McCain alter ego John Weaver.

And now today, via the rather large bulletin board of Bill Kristol's New York Times column, the approaching hoofbeats of Mike Murphy appear to be drawing nigh. Playing coy, Kristol purports to have no definite knowledge of a planned Murphy palace coup, but suggests it would be a really good idea.

When Bill Kristol sets the usual partisan agitprop of his Times column aside to dish insider stuff, you have to figure that either he knows exactly what he's talking about, and is informing the chattering classes of the next phase of the shakeup, or he's engaging in some high-level Robert-Novak-style factional scale-tilting.

Murphy does make a lot of sense for this perilous phase of the McCain campaign. A self-described "control freak," Murphy would presumably bring some authoritarian order to the messy and centrifugal operation, which looks increasingly amateurish in comparison to Team Obama. Just as importantly, with McCain now signaling that he's decided to go after Obama as a flip-flopping Washington politician rather than a scary outsider, his campaign desparately needs more of that 2000 Maverick Mojo. Murphy's rep is very much based on his skill at simultaneously reframing his candidate's image while cheerfully ripping apart his opponent's. He's also never won a Republican nominating contest, much less a general election.

By Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is the managing editor of The Democratic Strategist, a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, and an online columnist for The New Republic.

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2008 Elections John Mccain R-ariz.