Tire Joke

Call it the Candidate-Campaign Consistency Quotient: the ability of the candidate to remain in line with the campaign’s message. Judging from the past few weeks, John McCain’s CCCQ is low and trending downward.

Last week, the Washington Post noted McCain’s tendency to veer off course. When he was supposed to be slamming Obama for supporting a 16-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, McCain called it “a pretty good timetable.” When he was supposed to be building a brand for his energy plan, the “Lexington Project,” he told an audience “you can call it anything you want.”

Add a new drift to the list. After Barack Obama suggested last week that one way for Americans to conserve gas is to keep their tires inflated (which, um, works ), Republicans started handing out tire gauges engraved with the words “Obama Energy Plan.” Yesterday, Obama mocked them right back: “It’s like they take pride in being ignorant.” Still, Republicans continue to push the point .

Republicans, that is, except McCain. During a telephone town hall meeting Tuesday, McCain conceded the issue. “Obama said, a couple of days ago, says we all should inflate our tires,” McCain said. “I don’t disagree with that. The American Automobile Association strongly recommends it.” Yet McCain’s Web site still has a section on its front page devoted to the “Obama Tire Gauge.”

Why the disparity? McCain’s camp hasn’t returned requests for an explanation. My guess: It’s easier for a campaign or party to take cheap shots on behalf of a candidate than for a candidate to take cheap shots himself. Especially when it’s such a basic, right-or-wrong question as whether or not tire pressure conserves gas. You can go after Obama for not having a thorough enough energy plan. (Although many disagree .) But if you’re looking for a specific policy to attack, maybe pick something your own candidate disagrees with. Otherwise, it looks like he’s undermining the campaign’s message again.

UPDATE Aug. 7, 1:18 p.m.: We spoke too soon! Now McCain is back to mocking the tire gauge idea. “He’s claiming putting air in your tires is the equivalent of newoffshore drilling,” McCain said at an appearance today in Ohio. “That’s not an energy plan, my friends– that’s a public service announcement.”