How McCain can turn his campaign around

John McCain has been losing ground for the last two to three weeks, and it’s now or never for him to turn things around. The electoral map doesn’t lie. McCain needs to make major structural changes to the campaign, and I have some ideas.

First, he should fire Steve Schmidt. The highly disciplined campaign template doesn’t work for John McCain. He tried it prior to mid-2007 and the results were substandard, even before his immigration bill nearly wrecked his campaign. McCain won the GOP nomination by being the most authentic in the group. He kept his press availability open and he trusted his instincts. He pared his staff down to the longtime friends and advisors who know him. McCain will trip up with some unguarded comments, but he works better when the Straight Talk Express is in high gear. This route would be much better than him being strait-jacketed by gun-for-hire consultants.

Second, instead of shutting off press availability to Sarah Palin, the McCain campaign should go the other way and open the Palin Straight Chat Express. But right up front, she’s going to have say that she was too busy running a state to know every detail on foreign policy and every detail on McCain’s biography and work record. She’s going to have to say upfront that her goal between now and November 4th is to make less than half as many gaffes as Joe Biden, and she likes her chances of succeeding in that endeavor. She’ll have to say that she’s a quick study but not as polished on camera as Obama, but come January 20th, 2009, she’ll be ready for the job. This is a risky strategy, but McCain picked her, and it’s ultimately his fault if she effs it up.

Third, the rapid response team in its current form is terrible. They need more and better people, especially if step #1 and #2 are implemented. The press pile-ons are almost too many to count. Smears need to be addressed within hours of the smear being made. Attacks on McCain or Palin need to be addressed within hours of the attack, with bonus points for turning them around on Obama.

Fourth, any negative attacks on Obama must be accurate and truthful. McCain needs to show that Obama is too inexperienced and too liberal, especially in light of his scant voting record. He should challenge Obama and the media by highlighting Obama’s close and longtime relationships with a pastor who’s a left-wing political extremist, and that Obama crafted education policy for six years with a left-wing political extremist and unrepentant domestic terrorist. McCain should say that Obama is a Chicago machine politician with no substantive record on change, and he should opine that America can’t risk another Jimmy Carter during a time of economic uncertainty and when we’re in the middle of a War Against Militant Islamism.

Fifth, McCain also needs to focus on his positives, that he’s the one with the better economic plan, that he has the real record of making changes in Washington, and that he knows to win a war and work with foreign leaders. If he really wants to be a maverick, he’ll make a maverick proposal such as letting the tax cuts expire for those making over $250,000 a year because of the cost of the bailout and because he’s committed to fiscal sanity.

McCain needs to shake things up, and I think this is the best way he can do it.