This morning, The Politico ran an innocuous-seeming story in which a series of unnamed Republican consultants and strategists – with the exception of Ed Rollins, who went on the record – took turn taking shots at various aspects of the McCain campaign’s strategy.
The story didn’t seem particularly surprising, given (a) McCain’s underdog status in the presidential race, which automatically makes many Republicans uneasy; and (b) the general willingness of unnamed consultants and “strategists” to use the cloak of anonymity to tell the world how much better Campaign X would be if they were running the show.
But now, just a few hours later, the Politico is reporting that there has been a shake-up in the McCain campaign, with Rick Davis giving up his day-to-day management responsibilities (to focus on “long-range tasks) and with Steve Schmidt, who previously ran Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2006 re-election campaign in California, taking over for him. Whether this qualifies as a demotion for Davis is apparently a matter of dispute. Charlie Black, McCain’s chief consultant, was quoted saying that Davis is still Schmidt’s boss.
In theory, this could be a fairly routine and un-noteworthy shuffling of the deck chairs. But it’s hard to read this story and not conclude that McCain essentially shares the opinion of those unnamed consultants about the state of his campaign and concluded that Davis was not the right man to right the ship. After all, it was a year ago nearly to the day that Davis was the victor in a bloody power struggle within the McCain campaign, supplanting Terry Nelson as the campaign manager. McCain made the move despite the strenuous objections of Nelson and John Weaver, McCain’s longtime aide and confidante, who both blamed Davis for the campaign’s woes. When McCain made his choice, Weaver and Nelson left the campaign and Davis seemed to cement his control.
Now the extent of Davis’ authority and control is in question. It seems quite possible that McCain has lost confidence in him, just as he lost confidence in Nelson last year.