...it's clear Republicans haven't yet settled on who the man is they are facing in the presidential election.
Sometimes he's part of the country club set, other times he's an outsider with a strange name raised by a hippie mother.
Sometimes he's a Christian with a controversial pastor, other times he's a secretive Muslim.
Sometimes he's the black activist who resents white people, other times he's the Ivy league lawyer who doesn't understand the working man.
Sometimes he's naive to the ways of Washington, other times he's politically ruthless and overly ambitious.
And now it's probably too late. Obama has opted out of public financing, and will have nearly unlimited resources to package himself--and John McCain. The decision puts a stain on Obama's halo, but one that voters are likely to forgive, if they care about it at all.
Meanwhile, McCain's brand is seriously tarnished. A long string of flip-flops have made "Straight Talk" a punch line, and he's still trying to get out from under the Bush III label.
It's a given that Obama will spend a lot of time and money selling himself as a patriot with fresh ideas, while going after McCain's policies. His strategy going forward seems clear.
But which way does McCain go? Having squandered the primary season's opportunities to smoke Obama by characterizing him as an unexperienced country-club Muslim radical black Christian flag-hating terrorist, does McCain now spend his relatively limited resources rehabilitating his own image? It's a viable approach. McCain does have gravitas and experience, and although his maverick image is way overblown, he can point to important differences between himself and the GOP Dads.
Or does he focus on building distrust of Obama? Hasn't worked so far, but the secret of the Big Lie is to repeat it incessantly until the hypnotic mantra takes hold.
Or--here's a thought--does he engage Obama on the issues? McCain has legitimate differences with Obama, on issues from Iraq to healthcare. Problem is, it's not at all clear that he can simply paint Obama as a radical liberal, given the electorate's current antipathy toward the GOP.
Politically, we're in a brave new world--a favorable season for Democrats in which the nominee is in a position to outspend the GOP nominee by 3-to-1. How do the Republicans play it?