Whose fault is it anyway?
of a "mole" secretly working for Barack Obama.
While reluctant to go on the record with their concerns, these officials confirmed that they've made their suspicions known to top McCain advisers, and have urged what one official called a "top-to-bottom personnel review."
"We're getting killed out there," this official complained. "It's time to start thinking the unthinkable."
The possibility that someone within the McCain campaign might be deliberately undermining the presumptive Republican nominee's efforts has sent shock waves through GOP circles in the past 24 hours. The rumors have arisen as McCain has endured a particularly frustrating period marked by verbal gaffes, unflattering visuals, and withering commentary in the blogosphere. Obama, meanwhile, has been receiving lavish -- the McCain campaign would say fawning -- coverage of his travels through Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
The contrast in the candidates' fortunes has not gone unnoticed among GOP leaders. And the search for answers has now turned to the prospect of a
double agent hidden deep inside the McCain campaign apparatus.
"When they had him give that terrible speech with that terrible backdrop -- OK, they made a mistake," said one official, referring to the poorly received address McCain delivered on the same night Obama claimed victory in the fight for the Democratic nomination. "But it keeps happening."
The bill of particulars, as sketched out by these party stalwarts, is long and getting longer, and covers everything from factual errors to strategic stumbles.
"This guy's been around forever," one official argued. "He knows there's no Czechoslovakia anymore. He knows there's no 'Iraq-Pakistan border.' He knows the difference between Sunnis and Shiites. If he keeps saying these things, it's because somebody's been messing with his briefing
Of greater concern was this week's decision to put McCain in a golf cart next to former president George H.W. Bush at the latter's home in Maine. Even neutral observers felt that the contrast with the far more youthful Obama put McCain at a serious disadvantage.
Complained one frustrated official, "Where are they going to send him next? A shuffleboard tournament?"
But perhaps the greatest scorn -- and suspicion -- has focused on the McCain campaign's decision to keep goading Obama for his lack of experience
on the foreign stage. At the height of this effort, the Republican National Committee's website even maintained a running tab on how long it had been since Obama's last visit to Iraq.
The continuing ridicule, many now feel, made an Obama trip virtually inevitable -- and the result has been a seemingly unending series of stories and pictures buttressing Obama's commander-in-chief credentials: Obama meeting with foreign leaders and American military commanders, signing autographs for American soldiers, addressing rapturous foreign audiences. The McCain campaign, meanwhile, has struggled to receive even a fraction of the coverage.
"How stupid do you have to be to do something like that to yourself?" asked one GOP official. "Unless, of course, it's something even worse than
"There's still time to set things right," said another GOP insider, noting that for all his problems, McCain trails Obama by only six percentage points in the latest national polls. "But we have to make sure that everybody on our team really is on our team."
He dismissed the expected denials from the Obama camp as standard campaign rhetoric, and insisted that there was far more here than meets the eye.
"We keep screwing up over and over again," he said. "What other explanation is there?"