Republican chiefs turn on each other as campaign falls apart
Top Republican lieutenants who have been toiling with John McCain to put him in the White House are starting to turn on each other as they calculate that every last wheel has come off their campaign wagon and there is no putting them back on again.
Even as some of his backers argue that Barack Obama's lead in the polls is still not insurmountable, others in Mr McCain's circle are reportedly succumbing to the instincts of professional survival and political buck-passing. The fault for impending defeat must be assigned elsewhere.
A new Reuters-Zogby poll last night gave Mr Obama, who remained in Hawaii at the bedside of his ailing grandmother, a 10-point lead nationally. Meanwhile, new financial filings revealed that the make-up artist assigned to the running-mate, Sarah Palin, was paid more in the first half of October than any other employee of the campaign, including Mr McCain's most senior advisers and strategists.
"If you really want to see what 'going negative' is in politics, just watch the back-stabbing and blame game that we're starting to see," Mark McKinnon, a former McCain aide, told politico.com. "There's one common theme: everyone who wasn't part of the campaign could have done better."
There are still a number of things that could go wrong for Mr Obama, who will return to the campaign trail today. He is relying on a high turn-out, particularly among blacks and first-time young voters. Comments he has made on taxation and remarks by Joe Biden, his running-mate, on foreign affairs, have entered the McCain attack lexicon. And no one knows, meanwhile, how accurate the polling really is.
Democrats do have reason to feel encouraged. Early voting is under way in many of the battleground states and Democrats standing in line are outnumbering Republicans, sometimes by 2 to 1 margins. Ohio, North Carolina, New Mexico, Iowa and Nevada are all states showing the trend. Early voting is also pointing to the higher participation rate among African-Americans that Mr Obama needs.
Senator McCain – or McRage as Saturday Night Live now calls him – campaigned in Colorado, a normally red-leaning state that may already be lost to Mr Obama. The Republican continued to lambast his rival for the promise he made to "Joe the plumber" to increase taxes on the very rich and "spread the wealth".
Mr Obama told ABC yesterday, however, that he had no regrets about the comment. "The American people understand that the way we grow this economy is from the bottom up," he said.
The complaints from within the Republican Party about the McCain campaign are piling up fast. Why, for instance, did he not stick with his earlier strategy of contrasting his experience with the relative inexperience of Mr Obama? Why did he go negative in attacking Mr Obama? Why didn't he go negative enough? Then there is Mrs Palin, who yesterday had to turn her attention away from the campaign and back to her Troopergate difficulties. She was to give a deposition as part of a second inquiry into allegations the Alaska governor abused her power, by sacking a senior official because he refused to sack her estranged brother-in-law.
Mr McCain's defenders argue that it was clear by the summer that only by taking risks did he have any hoping of winning and picking the Alaska governor was the most gutsy of all. This week's revelations denting Mrs Palin's hockey-mom image have not helped though. Two days ago we heard of the $150,000 (£95,000) spent by the campaign on her fancy outfits. As for the make-up artist, she is Amy Strozzi, who was formerly in the make-up trailers of the TV show So You Think you Can Dance. In the first half of this month, cheques written to her amounted to a staggering $22,800.
Some of the conservative movement's most esteemed flag-bearers have turned against her. David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, termed her "a fatal cancer" on the party. Peggy Noonon in the Wall Street Journal called her selection "symptom and expression of a new vulgarisation in American politics".
Only Mr McCain can stop the bickering. "This looks like it's reached a point where the candidate has to step in himself and crack some heads to remind everyone why they came to work for him," said Dan Schnur, a former adviser.