Strategy ’08

Obama vs. the other guy, 2008

What can McCain do? Two takes

Mark Halperin has a list of suggestions for the McCain camp that he believes would help McCain win in November. He begins with:

–To have some of his own, big presidential moments before the conventions.

–To give a grand, soulful, expectations-defying acceptance speech in St. Paul (a la George H.W. Bush in 1988).

Also included are:

–To not bow to the temptation to talk about national security when he is supposed to talk about domestic issues.

–To recognize, accept and cater to the reality (as Rudy Giuliani would say) that most Americans care more about the price at the pump, their mortgages, and their food and health care costs then about McCain’s life story, prescience on the surge, or total number of trips made to Iraq.

I like Halperin, but he’s got this totally reversed.

John McCain is actually performing above expectations right now (although you can legitimately debate whether polls are actually reflective of what the electorate is going to look like in November).

He’s doing this by avoiding his own “presidential” moments, by not giving lavish speeches, and by keeping Iraq as a central issue in the campaign.

When it comes to speaking, McCain cannot compete. Trying to one-up a Barack Obama convention speech given in front of 75,000 people at a football stadium will be like trying to one-up the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Ain’t going to happen.

When it comes to the issues, McCain is in crisis on the economy (a hole which he dug himself). Poll after poll shows that the GOP gets thrashed on the economy. Laughable ads blaming Barack Obama for the price of gas aren’t going to fool the American public.

I think we’re beginning to see that, for McCain, his current act is as good as it gets. His policies are thin and, for the most part, a rehash of Bushonomics and Bushdefense. The only thing he can do is to hope and pray that the media spotlight stays on Obama.

Unfortunately for him, Obama has been phenomenal in the spotlight on his international trip – a trip that McCain insisted that he make (which fit with the “keep Obama in the spotlight” strategy). Next time, maybe McCain should try to get Obama to visit the International Space Station. There’s only so many cameras that would fit up there.


July 23, 2008 - Posted by | Media Strategy, Polling | ,


  1. Zen, I hear where you’re coming from, but I “slightly” disagree. I have a lot of problems with Halperin, but I actually agree with his points.

    Now, having said that, the question is whether or not McCain is capable of accomplishing what Halperin suggests, and that’s where I think you’ve nailed it.

    But I do think, strategically speaking, Halperin’s suggested “to do” list is probably mostly sound in theory. Hey, as long as it’s McCain who’s getting advice on how to recover, I’m fine with it.

    Comment by dansac | July 23, 2008 | Reply

  2. Dan – yes, the problem is that he’s giving advice to McCain. He’s using the traditional political playbook in a year where that just won’t work.

    Suggesting that this is as good as McCain can be is a bold claim, but no one has come up with a convincing plan that’s going to actually make him a better fit for the election this year.

    Comment by zenbowl | July 23, 2008 | Reply

  3. Yes, McCain should do many of those things. He should also have an actual policy agenda, be a better candidate, and not be running in a year in which the Republican brand is poison. He should be a few inches taller and 10 years younger. And while he’s at it, he should promise every American a pony.

    But like the fabled scorpion, McCain won’t do any of those things, because they’re not in his nature.

    This all goes to a pet peeve of mine: the worshipful/envious attitude most pundits hold toward political strategists. That’s why they’re always offering campaigns advice; they secretly want to be in the strategist role. And it’s also why they buy into the fallacy that strategy is what determines campaigns; if only a candidate would do the right things, say the right things or change their positioning slightly, they would reverse their fortunes. But candidates aren’t unformed lumps of clay. The reason McCain’s campaign is chaotic and undisciplined is because that’s the type of manager he is. The reason he and his top advisors are petty toward Obama is because they truly feel that way. The reason he doesn’t talk about domestic issues is because he doesn’t know much about them.

    Maybe he can change in three months the characteristics that he’s had for 72 years, but I’m not betting on it.

    Comment by gdh1 | July 23, 2008 | Reply

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