David Frum gives up on McCain

DAVID FRUM GIVES UP ON MCCAIN…. On CNN’s “Larry King Live” a few days ago, David Frum, a former Bush speechwriter and Giuliani campaign aide, offered his party some advice. “[W]e need to stop indulging the idea, which has been pretty dead for a while, this [presidential race is winnable,” Frum said. “It’s probably not winnable. It’s almost certainly not winnable.” His advice was to focus on saving some Republican senators, instead of investing in McCain.

Frum expounded on the subject today in a Washington Post piece, in which he argued that McCain is not only losing, but is also “losing in a way that threatens to take the entire Republican Party down with him.”

In these last days before the vote, Republicans need to face some strategic realities. Our resources are limited, and our message is failing. We cannot fight on all fronts. We are cannibalizing races that we must win and probably can win in order to help a national campaign that is almost certainly lost. In these final 10 days, our goal should be: senators first.

I suppose there’s some logic in this, if one agrees with Frum that McCain’s chances for victory are too remote to be taken seriously. But there are a couple of problems with Frum’s pitch.

First, Frum’s argument is predicated on an oddly paranoid premise. In explaining why Republicans should focus on “saving” vulnerable GOP incumbent senators, he argues that without 45 seats or so, Democrats will “reward friends and punish enemies,” “silence conservative talk radio,” “police the activities of right-leaning think tanks,” and demonstrate a “militant” and “angry intolerance” for dissent. In other words, the pitch is this: “Vote for Republican Senate candidates, because David Frum has an overactive imagination.”

Second, Frum believes candidates like John Sununu in New Hampshire, Gordon Smith in Oregon, and Norm Coleman in Minnesota can be saved if the party moves away from far-right “themes and messages” used by Sarah Palin. The election is nine days. Frum thinks the GOP can salvage some wins by moving to the center now? As if the nation has been unconscious the last several years?

Frum’s argument is not completely ridiculous, at least when it comes to the RNC’s resources. That the Republican National Committee thought it wise to spend $150,000 on Sarah Palin’s campaign wardrobe, while the party’s congressional candidates are struggling, is very hard to defend. If the RNC were to give up on McCain altogether, and focus its remaining resources on down-ballot races, it might make a difference.

But he likelihood of Republicans taking Frum’s advice seems remote. They’ve come this far with an incoherent strategy, and it’s too late in the game to change it now.

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