No one likes to lose. But John McCain hates to lose with an almost surreal passion. And as the North Vietnamese certainly discovered, he doesn’t know how to surrender. So here’s my prediction regarding the last days of this election: You will not see a grim John McCain, or a John McCain losing it in anger or desperation; instead, you will see the steel backbone that has always defined him. You will see the never-say-die fighter. And, sadly for the Republicans, he will likely set a standard for grit and determination that many others in the campaign will fail to meet.
That’s part of the message I take from reports that some in the McCain camp are resigned to defeat. They are telling reporters that they can read the polls, that they understand the state of the race. None of them are discussing transition plans. They’re probably nervously updating their resumes.
But John McCain, reporters say, seems to believe that he can still win. Those press stories usually have an implied subtext: McCain is in la-la-land. He’s looking at polls that show him trailing by healthy margins and saying, “We’ve got ‘em right where we want ‘em!” Delusional, right?
No. Admirable. John McCain has run on his biography to a great extent, and (if the polls prove accurate) it hasn’t enabled him to overcome the hammering blows of an economy in crisis--not to mention a talented opponent with a superb organization. But McCain’s biography is a significant one, and at the top of the list of traits he has displayed over many years is remarkable courage and an inextinguishable spirit. McCain knows he has faced far worse in life than losing an election, even a presidential election. And he has learned that it’s never over until it’s over. He didn’t die in North Vietnam, after all. Nor did his campaign expire when everyone wrote its obituary before the primaries. “Mac is Back!” read the campaign signs back then.
John McCain has boundless faith in his ability to stand his ground, defy great odds, and win. Will it happen yet again? Probably not, and the mood of so many Republicans reflects the long odds their candidate appears to face. But McCain will not countenance the idea of defeat and he will fight for votes until the very last minute. His defiance and tenacity may or may not win him the election, but at the least it should remind people why he deserved to run for our highest office.
Bill Beaman is editor-in-chief at Politics magazine. firstname.lastname@example.org