Pre post mortem on McCain Campaign

Alex Massie two days ago (h/t Larison):

Equally, “constructing” a “narrative” of Obama as a “lightweight celebrity” was a strategy that depended upon Obama showing himself to be nothing more than a lightweight celebrity candidate. But what if he showed more than that? What would the McCain campaign do then? In other words, McCain’s strategy depended upon Obama failing, not McCain succeeding. As such it was vulnerable. Indeed, it was predicated upon an analysis that was not the GOP’s to control.

Now I’m not here to praise the McCain campaign before I bury them by any means.  And Alex makes a number of smart critiques:  e.g. he is right that the Palin selection while temporarily helped, she hurt in the long run.  [Somebody I know hypothesized about that very possibility awhile ago].

But I want to focus on this notion that McCain’s campaign was about Obama failing.  As a simple matter actually that was in fact the only chance McCain had.  For the longest time, I’ve been saying that McCain could never have won this election (minus some attack or horrible foreign policy crisis a week out from the election), but Obama could lose the election.

If we return to Drew Westen’s 5 point decreasing order scale of importance in voting, point #1 (most important) is party identification/party numbers.  So McCain was always screwed on that front–any GOP nominee would have been.  It’s was only worse in McCain’s particular scenario because he didn’t have the GOP base going in.  He needed a base plus middle this year to win.  But the more he went for his Maverick/moderate side, the more he alienated his base–which got reminded of McCain’s positions on campaign finance, immigration, etc.

But the more he went to the base, the more he lost the middle/independents/moderates who despise the Republican base.  And as that base has headed further and further into wingnuttery, that only makes it that much worse for Sen. McCain.

As Mike Murphy said, these guys (McCain’s camp) are running it like’s it Texas.  They are trying to run up the score–i.e. play to the base.  But they are still thinking this is 2004, that a base rollout scenario is what will gain victory.  But that’s exactly Westen’s point #1, the GOP brand is completely trashed, except for its base.  The 20-28% or so who approve of Bush that is.  That is not going to get you a victory.

So heading down the list.

#2 is a candidate’s emotional connection with folks/#3 qualities (e.g. leadership) of the candidate.

But here again McCain again was screwed.  You will recall in the summer he ran a biography tour and focused on #2 and #3 relative to him, positively.  War hero, POW, etc.  McCain also (as Westen noted) opened up the negative line of attack to come on Obama by referring to himself as the “American President America has been waiting for.”

But on #2 & #3 on simply a positive comparison (i.e. the good side of both), McCain was toast.  Because Obama represents the future, McCain the past. Obama connects with the growing cultural edge of authenticity and extraversion over McCain’s introversion and classic top-down authority view of gaining standing.  [Which explains McCain gets so visibly angry by Obama and thinks he’s jumped his place in line].

Bonus negative in McCain’s column, he was a Vietnam vet.  Or just a war vet generally.  Reagan beat Carter.  Clinton beat Bush 41 and Dole.  Bush II beat Gore and Kerry.  Non-military vet over military vet each time.  Also extraverted, forward looking, optimistic candidate over introverted ones.

Moreover, we live in an era of television campaigns.  And McCain is not built for the television era:  introverted, uncomfortable very often, very poor speaker and is “HOT” in Marshall McLuhan’s language.  Where the medium is the message.  And TV McLuhan said is a Cool medium.  The message that is communicated through telelvision is calm, connection, sincerity.  Obama is the quintessence of cool in that regard.  Which is whatever the punditocracy say after each debate on policy matters and such, Obama kept blowing out McCain in the audience polls.

In sum, on the three most important things that decide the election, McCain was 0 for 3.  If he only stayed positive and made the case for him.  Sure he had the more experience thing going and could try his Reformer argument, but that wasn’t going to be enough to overcome the anger at the Republican party and Obama’s charisma.

So there only chance was to attack (Rovian style) Obama’s strengths in categories 2 and 3.  That he can’t be trusted–i.e. “bad associations”.  Attempt to link him to the whole train of 60s/70s liberals (“hate America”)…Wright, Ayers, and infanticide charges enter the picture. Say that he is arrogant (Obama not country first), flash in the pan.

McCain was always, so long as Obama kept his cool, in a no-win situation.  Either he disrespect Obama–celebrity, liar, etc.–and then Obama shows up (and this is Massie’s point) and then McCain looks like the contemptuous, cantankerous, sour grapes/angry old man that he was in the debate the other night.   Or he play gracious to Obama, in which case then all the other factors come back to push Obama to victory.

Again, it was only whether Obama could lose it not whether McCain could win.  Obama made a mistake or two earlier on:  most egregiously the “bitter guns/religion” comment (and that when his numbers tanked).  But Obama it should be remembered has run a very impressive (to put it mildly) campaign, whatever one’s views of his politics.

Barry was supposed to be the neophyte but against both McCain and Clinton he appeared the much cagier, veteran.  Obama’s ability to stay cool and play rope a dope with the atttacks coming at him, instead of responding in anger, helped him enormously.  Can’t be underestimated how much.  As a contrast imagine how Hillary would have responded to similar attacks.

Published in: on October 17, 2008 at 9:27 am  Leave a Comment  
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