John McCain ran a race he doesn't recognize.
He spent 30 years preparing for this race, and since November 3, 2004, his team has planned and anticipated every move. There was no opinion poll they missed. The team was unimpeachable, the strategy solid. They layered their line of attack on what was learned from 2000 and set about with their eyes on every inch of Washington.
But in 2004 things were also happening outside of Washington, in places other than Iraq and Afghanistan. Skype was launched. YouTube was born. Myspace came of age, soon to be overtaken by Facebook. And, with a swift kick to the balls, the titans of capitalism were joined by—or unseated by—young upstarts in flip-flops. The business and entertainment worlds fell in line, but the insular enclave of Washington evolves only every 4 years, and so McCain prepared for the game of 2004.
The insular enclave of Washington evolves only every 4 years, and so McCain prepared for the game of 2004.
At first, Barack Obama played the same game. He thought that if he did, he might have an outside chance, at least a sure shot at the VP role. And then something happened. Obama realized that the playing field was not the same arena of the Washington of old. He was agile enough to leap on this epiphany unencumbered by the Washington legacy that kept with the rules of electoral campaign best practices, circa 2004.
That the rules had changed was a fact foisted upon McCain before his campaign had properly started. His race was supposed to be against a seasoned politician like Hillary whom he felt a worthy opponent. If Hillary and McCain were doing battle with each other, no one would be talking about running "clean" campaigns. The debates certainly would never have been this hermetically sealed and antiseptic.
Instead, McCain found himself in a race against an upstart; an unworthy albeit very bright opponent, he concedes, with no credentials and no pedigree; this only makes him angry. It’s caused him to make the bad judgments he never would have made had he been running against Hillary. The rules of engagement would have been clearly understood.
John McCain is a victim of circumstance, running at a moment in history where time suddenly shifted, and he was skipped like a commercial on TiVo.