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Off the Bus

John McCain’s ex-strategist takes the blame for the campaign’s failures.

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For the past decade, John Weaver had been Senator John McCain’s chief strategist, the man behind the whole Straight Talk barnstorming shtick that made the conservative Arizonan a media star. Then, after building ­McCain into an apparent shoo-in for the Republican nomination—a maverick savior for his party—he sank the campaign into debt and disarray, leading to his resignation last week. He accepts all blame. “We had a spending problem, a message problem, a spending problem … that’s nobody’s fault but mine,” Weaver says in his first interview since resigning last week. “We began the campaign believing our own b.s., and I’m very guilty of that.” He and McCain met in 1997, when Weaver was working for Phil Gramm’s Senate campaign in Texas and McCain was its chairman. “I saw how people were drawn to him,” Weaver says, and drafted a presidential plan for McCain. But McCain’s chief of staff, Mark Salter, wouldn’t give him a meeting. “He thought I was some nut job,” Weaver says. Five months passed. “Finally, I had to meet McCain in the hallway,” he remembers. In sum, Weaver spent millions he should have saved on a strategy that didn’t work. He spent on offices, staff (hiring his fiancée and her brother), polling, consultants (Weaver even upped his fees to $20,000 a month as the campaign bled). Now, McCain is clinging to a measly $2 million in cash (after nearly $26 million raised). He has close to $2 million in debt, too. What happened? “In 2000, I was younger and indestructible and much more aggressive,” Weaver says. Since then, “I went through a divorce and almost died twice with leukemia.” And to top it off, he just gave up his rent-controlled apartment in the West Village to move closer to McCain’s headquarters in D.C. “It’s gone.” He still can’t believe this is happening. “The thing that’s so unimaginable is me not on the bus with John.”

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