blog Wednesday, Jim Cramer said of
Securities and Exchange Commission
Chairman Christopher Cox: "
Sen. John McCain (R., Ariz.) may very well have been listening to Cramer. In remarks today, McCain turned on the Bush administration, saying: "The chairman of the SEC serves at the appointment of the president and has betrayed the public's trust. If I were president today, I would fire him."
McCain doesn't have to stop at Cox, however. Why not call out the policies of the president himself?
McCain's call for the resignation for the SEC's chairman is most likely an attempt to distance his campaign from the mistakes of the unpopular Bush administration, says Chip Hanlon, a
contributor and president of Delta Global Advisers. McCain's Donald Trump-like statement (Trump supports McCain) shows that his campaign finally understands that he can't ignore the problems on Wall Street.
Cramer: Fire Chris Cox
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McCain had gained considerable momentum by naming Gov. Sarah Palin (R., Alaska) as his running mate. The vice-presidential choice energized both evangelical and fiscal conservatives. However, McCain's campaign has lost momentum in the last week, in part owing to several silly and contradictory statements he's made about the U.S. economy.
First, McCain came out and said that "
." But any time three of the top five investment banks on Wall Street fail and the other two --
, it's fairly easy to ascertain the economy faces jeopardy.
Second, McCain spoke out against a taxpayer bailout of Wall Street firms on Monday. Later that night, the
in an effort to stop a "disorderly failure" resulting in "higher borrowing costs, reduced household wealth, and materially weaker economic performance." After that move, McCain flip-flopped and
. Today he said:
"When AIG was bailed out, I didn't like it, but I understood it needed to be done to protect hard working Americans with insurance policies and annuities."
McCain went on to criticize Sen. Barack Obama (D., Ill.) for not taking a position on the bailout, suggesting Obama was indecisive. That's ironic criticism considering McCain has supported both sides of the coin. That back-and-forth may hurt because such action may cause him to lose credibility with conservatives.
Change, Beyond a Flashy Slogan
Moreover, McCain's big flip-flop on bailouts makes one wonder about his campaign strategy in general. Prior to the Republican National Convention a few weeks ago, he had been content to run on a message of experience. Then his choice of Palin shocked the political landscape. He changed gears and started singing a different tune: change.
However, McCain has a problem running on a campaign of change. Why? Obama has already locked up the "change" brand, and voters identify with him on that issue. Let's face it, Obama is a phenomenon, an outsider. McCain has been in Washington for three decades.
So has McCain erred? Yes and no. Clearly, he has to embrace change. The American people are fed up with the direction of the country and with some of President Bush's choices. McCain took the first right step today -- subtly attacking the administration -- but he has to become more aggressive about hammering Bush directly.
McCain could criticize the president for a number of mistakes: a massive increase of government spending, out-of-control earmarks, missteps in Iraq, incompetent governance (Hurricane Katrina, for example) and most recently allowing Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to commit billions to bail out big banks.
Hanlon says McCain has room to go on the offensive:
"McCain has a lot of room to do so without upsetting frustrated Republicans, but he had better distance himself from the president the right way. If he does so by talking about spending restraint and restoring ethical conduct within the GOP, he will be fine."
Attacking Bush does come with a risk. McCain has to remain true to conservative ideology. Hanlon continued: "If, however, McCain tries to create that distance by bashing free markets, calling for such resignations and investigations into Wall Street, he risks re-alienating the very base he inspired with the pick of Sarah Palin as his running mate."
McCain may be making another mistake. He also called today for the government to create a trust -- Mortgage and Financial Institutions -- to clean up toxic paper. This is exactly what conservatives don't want: more bailouts and more regulation.
McCain has the winning strategy in his grasp. He can assail Bush for failing with government action and moving away from conservative ideology. However, if he embraces bailouts and regulation, he's toast with real conservatives.