McCain — not a wuss, but a strategist

Charlie Martin makes a nice argument, which is that McCain has been setting Obama up for all the hits McCain is suddenly throwing at him.  I don’t know if I believe this, since it strikes me as pretty dangerous to wait until the last 30 days to launch these assaults.  Still, I like how it makes McCain look powerful and Machiavellian, rather than helpless and reactive.

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  • Charlie (Colorado)

    Wow, you found that before I even knew it was up.

    Anyway, I suspect that the credit crisis may have affected the timing a bit, but remember McCain was an attack bomber pilot — you get in real close before you let loose.

  • Bookworm

    Thinking more about the article, it occurred to me that McCain is saving the big bombs for the attention season. That is, as Thomas Lifson has written, most Americans aren’t paying attention most of the time, so you don’t want to use your best arguments too soon — hence the October surprise.

    Anyway, it’s a great article and it gave me pleasure to read it.

  • Oldflyer

    Good for Charlie, he comes closer to the correct title for McCain’s USN status than most. In the Navy he was an Attack Pilot (actually the term attack bomber pilot is redundant) not a fighter pilot or a bomber pilot. As the saying in the fleet went, “you can always tell a fighter pilot, but you can’t tell him much”. So, given McCain’s personality he may have wanted to be a fighter pilot. (Since the advent of the true multi-role F/A-18 aircraft the lines have been blurred like in so many other areas of our society. So, Fighter/Attack pilot would be accurate now.)

    Well, anyway. I think the financial meltdown really did throw them off stride. It also appears that McCain was reluctant to go personal. Still, I don’t think he would let the election slip away due to excessive fastidiousness. He knows very well what is at stake for the country.

  • Larry Sheldon

    There is in fact a concern for “peaking” early. Or late.

    I worry about the “early voting” that has already been done.

  • suek

    And his budget was limited – don’t forget that. He may also have been saving his campaign dollars in order to maximize them.

    We can hope.

  • BrianE

    Has anyone else felt a suspicion that the timing of the bailout was intended to hurt McCain? The credit markets had been tied up for months– I realize that many companies fiscal years end Sept. 30, but the timing of this is odd.
    In spite of the dire warnings, life didn’t end when the first bailout was rejected. Is it possible that “the establishment”- either Washington or Wall Street, and that includes Bush, doesn’t want McCain president?
    This has the ring of the 2006 Congressional election when Bush waited until after the election to announce the resignation of Rumsfeld. Bush has proved himself to be in the more classical liberal mold along the lines of a Jackson or even a Lieberman.
    Is this too conspiratorial to suggest?

    As to the timing, McCain is a shrewd politician, he’d probably be a good poker player. I suspect he wouldn’t have gone this route, had he stayed within 3-4 points of Barack.

  • Bookworm

    I’ve certainly had the feeling that the press, blind to any sense of responsibility, has been playing up the market’s woes, not just to sell papers or TV time, but to hurt McCain (since popular wisdom, contrary to actual facts on the grounds, credits Democrats with economic smarts).

  • Coyote

    I think McCain has been running a very well planned strategy (and these articles are great references for it).

    McCain knows what he is doing. What did he do last week but let Sarah loose to right before the debate, to shake the game up. He kept her under wraps to keep Obama’s team from having anything recent to study, and then gave a teaser glimpse before the debate where she decimated Biden.

    And he is doing the same thing now. He dropped the A bomb hinting he was going to bring it up and true to form the Obama campaign reacted and brought it up for him. Now it is the hot topic on the eve of the debate and has opened doors to a lot of other trouble for Obama tonight. And Obama, once again, is on the psychological backfoot when he needs to be top of his game.

    McCain is doing better than we all think. The polls are skewed, don’t pay attention to them. Palin wakes 20,000 people out of their beds to show up to wait in line at 6am. And these people if they will do that will be more inclined to actually go to the polls than however many people go out for an evening of Bruce Springsteen.

    Don’t buy into the media’s agenda to get McCain voters to stay at home by believing the election is already lost. It ain’t over til it’s ovah.

  • BrianE

    The way this Ayers thing has been presented is all wrong and it won’t work, especially with people’s 401ks going in the crapper. Frankly an 800 point dow slide on the week that McCain unveiled the Ayers offensive is just bad luck too. But if they wanted it to stick they needed to create a dialogue, I see no dialogue coming any time soon.

    Frankly the way I see the Obama dialogue is you have a Harvard grad who wanted to advance in politics, so he carpetbags to Chicago with the Socialist elites whose power structure control the activist wing of the city. So he becomes a community organizer, community organizers are consistent at keeping people poor with a few government crumbs, he joins the radical pastor because he wants to play on class and racial tensions like most elitist city overseers do, meets up with the slum lords who are the real beneficiaries of the “community organizer’s” work, and get involved with commie folk heroes like Ayers and his circles. Then voila, he gives a good speech and he is thrust on the national scene, inherits a Senate seat and the media treats continues to treat him with kid gloves despite the facts. He was going to manipulate the poor in Chicago but now he can do that on a massive scale. He didn’t make the decisions he did because that is who he is, but that is what you do if you want the job he was going for, inner city overseer. People are fearful of city politicians, turn Obama into a city politician.

    The McCain campaign needs to set about a clear dialogue like this and connect the dots for people, obviously not using some of the words and phrases I used but create a similar dialogue, throwing it against the wall and waiting for it to stick makes me wonders if there is nothing but dummies left, even in the Republican campaign staffs. Have the necons let their “Dark Ages” politics creep that high up the food chain, because I am seeing gross incompetence?

    LevStrauss on October 7, 2008 at 9:18 AM

    This was a response to a similar question at another blog, and makes sense. How do they make the narrative relevant to the average voter?
    The same problem with pinning the credit crisis on the democrats. They need to do that, but without the media (the filter) validating the message, it becomes harder for that message to gain traction, especially with the short window.
    McCain the reformer, running against Wall St and Bush, adding the benefit of divided government, still appears to me to be the best approach.

  • 11B40


    In the infantry, this is known as letting the “kill zone” of your ambush fill. Of course, the next decision is usually are they 5 or 500.

  • Mike Devx

    BrianE says,
    The way this Ayers thing has been presented is all wrong and it won’t work, especially with people’s 401ks going in the crapper

    That will be the essential Obama argument, for sure. We are certainly going to find out how effective a debater McCain is! He does need to accomplish something that Sarah Palin does with ease: He needs the debate to be about the economy and simultaneously raise doubts about Obama’s experience, judgment, background, to argue that Obama will not be able to handle the economy.

    That won’t be easy to do, with Obama running highly effective interference, being a skilled orator! But McCain’s got to do it. It will be interesting!

    But if they wanted it to stick they needed to create a dialogue

    I don’t know Brian. A dialogue with who? If the dialogue is with the American people, well, you get a little bit of that started via speeches and rallies. But the media will not allow such a dialogue with the American people to develop, so McCain has GOT to do it during the debate(s).

    Obama’s massively skilled smooth talk concealing his constant weavings and deceptions, countered by McCain’s tendency to disjointed plain talk. Can McCain rise to the occasion? An interesting evening approaches.

    I challenge anyone to take a set of Obama’s paragraphs and write it down and rigorously parse its lawyer-speak and diplomat-speak to identify what he’s really saying, and to identify where the deceptions are, where the twists are, and how smoothly he hides them. It can be fun and also revealing.

  • Ymarsakar

    A conversation I overhead between young blacks said that they were voting for Obama not just because of the blackness but because McCain has 14 houses and Obama has one. That means Obama has more to lose and that means Obama is fighting the same things that those young blacks are fighting when making a living. Obama, thus, relates more to the poor than McCain.

    Of course, the fact that Obama has the ability to get money for his wife’s employer, which consequentially raises his wife’s salary by 300%, is not something they either know about or want to talk about.

    That’s the art of propaganda in action, people.

  • Ymarsakar

    Still, I like how it makes McCain look powerful and Machiavellian, rather than helpless and reactive.

    Have you read the Prince, yet, Book?

  • Bookworm

    I read The Prince in high school and college, but it’s been a long, long time, Y.

  • BrianE

    I think the message fails if it’s about associating with a unrepentant terroist, blah, blah.
    The message needs to be serving on a board with a communist that wants to radicalize American education and during that time wasted $100 million dollars without improving Chicago schools one iota. That’s democrat machine politics, and that’s Barack’s idea of reform. I and Sarah are the only ones qualified to reform. Look at all the people trying to defeat me- Wall St, Democrats, country club Republicans. At this point McCain is running against Bush as much as Obama.
    Reinforce the machine politics with Wright, Rezko. It has to be kept simple. And trying to flesh out why these are bad people takes too much space.
    When I was a reporter, we had three paragraphs to tell the story, because that’s all the farther the average reader went into a story.

  • Mike Devx

    Obama’s explicit failures – and lack of successes – are never covered. Not on ANY of the thirty-five conservative blogs (a few I scan daily, others only every four days or so to catch up); not on talk radio by any of the usual hosts I get here (OReilly, Mark Davis, Rush, Sean, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham, Jerry Doyle). I’ve always wondered about Sean Hannity’s endless drumming of the issue. The McCain campaign never brings up the Obama failure record either.

    Heck, when I’ve spelled out Obama’s failure record here in comments, several times, Ozzie and Helen never even offer a defense of Obama’s failures and corresponding complete lack of successes.

    So, across all possible avenues of communication, Obama’s record of failures is completely ignored. There must be a reason for this. You (and I) might find it a promising avenue of attack. But this point, I’d go with everyone else, rather than with what you are saying, and what I have said.

    When the entire world, including voices that you respect, aren’t in sync with you, it’s worth questioning whether you’ve got it right. I’ve accepted it.

  • BrianE

    I went back and re-read some of your recent posts. I see what you mean, although in this environment, you’re preaching to the choir.
    But I think the message has to be simple, and has to be one that is self-sufficient and one that is not perceived as an attack.
    Saying that Obama is pals with a terrorist is an attack.
    Saying Obama failed to make a difference in the lives of people he cares is critical of his record, not his person.
    The media will call either an attack, but the public may see the difference.
    Previous thread, BW raised the issue whether there are any undecideds left. Maybe not. In which case, it’s a moot point.

  • suek

    >>Ozzie and Helen never even offer a defense of Obama’s failures and corresponding complete lack of successes.>>

    Maybe they don’t consider them failures. If you define success as better scholars, better math skills, better literary skills, then you consider Obama and Ayers programs a failure. If, on the other hand, the real point of the money invested was social reprogramming to raise community activism issues and make significant changes in the primary goals of education, maybe the programs was successful. Those who might consider them successful, however, don’t care to draw attention to the difference in goals, so they simply fail to address the issue at all.

  • el gordo

    Attacks on an opponent must be flanked by a positive case for yourself. What McCain needs (needed months ago) is an economic plan, just a couple of common sense initiatives. I´m not talking about that insider earmark bs but initiatives that will make life better for average Americans. You know, the people who are supposed to vote for you. Every winning president in my memory understood this.

    Six months ago I said: Running on the war is not enough. Running on his remarkable service is not enough. In fact, McCain should talk less about himself. And going negative on Obama, no matter how richly the bastard deserves it, is not enough. That holds true even if there is no economic crisis, but there is one now.

    And now, as Rich Lowry at NRO put it today “Most voters probably didn’t even know that McCain had a (creative) health-care plan until Obama began lambasting it.” Obama has lots of promises and proposals. They may all be crap, but he has been talking about them and McCain hasn´t.

    The reform message is a good one, but reform in itself contains no benefit. It must be fleshed out with concrete proposals to be credible. An unspecified or inconsistent promise of reform may well make people think that you will go off half-cocked. Not good. People are scared and looking for reassurance right now. McCain needs to come across as the safe choice. Less maverick, more experienced helmsman. Of course this doesn´t sit well with the task of attacking Obama.

    It is probably too late now to roll out an economic plan that doesn´t look like it was cooked up at the last minute (even if it wasn´t). This goes to the heart of the problem with Republicans: their inability to convey the benefits of their policies to new voters. You either want to govern or you don´t. If you really believe (as I do) that conservative ideas on the economy and social issues are good, then they must be good for all people – big city, suburb, men, women, minorities, workers, businessmen, young, old. And if you can´t explain them and make them work for everybody then you probably don´t understand them in the first place. All too often Republicans hide excellent ideas under the stairs and instead of educating people and building a majority, rely on the conservative form of identity politics (which chases away people who really belong in the conservative party) and on “the base” to bail them out.

  • BrianE

    el gordo,
    You make excellent points. People do want to here positive message, even when negative ones work– but as Douthat points out, is couched around relevant issues.

    *Ross Douthat argues that Republican appeals to social issues, or even ads that were accused of being racially divisive, have tended to be effective only when they were grounded in concrete economic or safety concerns.

    Here’s the Ross Douthat article. He makes the point that any association with Ayers doesn’t translate into an issue relevant to America right now, comparing it to the Willie Horton ad, and why it WAS so effective.

  • suek

    >>People do want to here positive message, even when negative ones work>>

    Positive is good, but how do you go about saying that you’re better without also saying that your opponent is _not_ as good??? And pointing out specifics…!

  • el gordo

    suek, it´s necessary to attack your opponent, but ideally it should be on an issue that is relevant to people at the time. Currently that would be the economy. There are always some no-brainers that everyone agrees with, but one or two big ideas are a must. Bush 43 had them, Clinton had them. The problem with McCain is that he likes values and attitude but not ideas, especially not conservative ones.

    But you can attack on any front as long as you don´t forget to tell people what you will do for them. It´s really very simple. Think of advertising. Let´s say you are Ford and have a car to sell, and let´s say buyers care most about safety. Clearly, just saying that cars made by GM are unsafe will not be enough to sell many of yours. After all, Ford would say that, right?

    You must convince people that your car is very safe. To do that you have to give a convincing reason. You say our car will keep you safe because it has feature x. Going back to McCain, calling yourself a maverick or a reformer is like saying you have feature x. It is not the benefit itself. It is only the reason why.

    Talk about hope and change was rightfully ridiculed because it has no meaning. But Obama has been giving populist talking points on the economy and discarded the messiah shtick at least since the convention. McCain has simply avoided the subject and left it to his enemies.

    Republicans have been ceding this ground to the enemy for no good reason other than lack of conviction.

    If McCain had had a thought out economic message, who would be better at selling it than Sarah Palin? She is perfect for this. But she is given nothing to work with.