McCain the King of the Comeback

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As the media tries to call this race over, it’s worth noting that not only is this not the first time that the media has declared the McCain campaign dead. It is also worth noting that Senator McCain’s underdog role is nothing new to him, and he has a penchant for pulling off upsets just as he’s being counted out. In fact his odds in this race are remarkably good compared to other challenges he has faced in his life…

Now, as he presses against the strongest political headwinds in many, many years, he’s trying to follow his own advice. Looking back to the early days of the campaign, John Weaver told me that McCain, politically, was “facing a Category 1 hurricane” when he began his race. Now, Weaver says, “it’s a Category 5.”

Despite it all, McCain pushes on, propelled by a drive most people just don’t have. I remember traveling to Iowa in the fall of 2007, after McCain’s campaign meltdown had left him in dreadful financial straits. We were going to the farthest reaches of northwest Iowa, near the Minnesota border. McCain was staying in a Holiday Inn Express in the middle of nowhere — when you walked out the door, the smell of fertilizer got your attention pretty quickly — and he was traveling around in a minivan because his bus had broken down. He spent his days talking to small groups — sometimes really small groups — in diners and pizza joints.

He was 71 years old at the time, wealthy, with a safe and senior spot in the Senate and a career that few, if any, public servants could match. On top of that, his campaign had blown up in an explosion of mismanagement and bad feelings that had many political insiders and journalists writing its obituary. And yet there he was, plugging away, every day, animated by something that is unique to his character.

And why shouldn’t he feel that he can overcome just about anything? This is a man who has dodged death — real death, not political death — many times. There’s more to the story than his enduring five and a half years as a prisoner of war — just look at the fuzzy old black-and-white film of McCain on July 29, 1967, leaping off the refueling probe of his jet after it had been struck by a missile on the deck of the USS Forrestal. It was one of the worst disasters in Navy history, killing 132 men. McCain, miraculously, walked away from it. On one of those trips around Iowa, sitting in the back of his bus — after his campaign found one that worked — McCain described the days after the Forrestal fire. He was at a meeting in which the commanding officer asked if anyone would like to volunteer to transfer to another carrier, the USS Oriskany, which had itself undergone a fire, although a less serious one. Describing himself as if he had been an outside observer, McCain said that he saw his hand go up to volunteer when he could have sought out a less dangerous assignment; on that day in Iowa, 40 years later, he still seemed a little surprised by what he had done. But off he went, and it was from the Oriskany that he took off on the mission that led to his capture and imprisonment, events that would inform so much of his subsequent political career.

The lesson is that McCain is always searching for something new to overcome. Of course he would rather not be facing quite so many political adversities at once, but he is a man who, if he makes it out of one scrape, puts himself in position for another.

And now, he’s doing it again. “How many times, my friends, have the pundits written off the McCain campaign?” he asked a crowd in Wisconsin on October 10. “We’re gonna fool ‘em again. We’re gonna fool ‘em one more time.” A few days later, in Virginia, McCain described the forces arrayed against him and declared, “My friends, we’ve got them just where we want them.” People in the audience laughed. But in some sense, deep inside, McCain meant it.

From National Review John McCain Against the Wind


McCain the King of the Comeback

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