Thursday, September 11, 2008

McCain Campaign Strategy Is Crystal Clear

For Steve Schmidt, Rick Davis, and John McCain, it's only tangentially about swinging different demographic groups with divisive smears and distortions that feed divisions related to identity.

What we're seeing intensified this week, this typical GOP lie and deny, is a tactic that enhances the McCain camp's larger road map to victory.

"This election is not about issues."

That's what McCain campaign manager Rick Davis told the WaPo's Chris Cillizza last week. (emphasis his)

Rick Davis, campaign manager for John McCain's presidential bid, insisted that the presidential race will be decided more over personalities than issues during an interview with Post editors this morning.

"This election is not about issues," said Davis. "This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates."

Davis added that issues will no doubt play a major role in the decisions undecided voters will make but that they won't ultimately be conclusive. He added that the campaign has "ultimate faith" in the idea that the more voters get to know McCain and Barack Obama, the better the Republican nominee will do.

And yesterday, in the thick of all that pigstick, Cillizza pointed to some data from the most recent WaPo-ABC polls that truly illustrates where the McCain camp thinks it wins this election.

Which is more important to you in choosing a candidate for president: their personal qualities such as experience and leadership ability, or their positions on specific issues?

Presidential Preference Among "Issue" Voters

Presidential Preference Among "Personal Qualities" Voters

NOTE: Results among registered voters.
SOURCE: This Washington Post-ABC News poll was conducted by telephone September 5-7, 2008, among a random national sample of 1,133 adults and 961 registered voters.

The graphic on the side should help drive this home. Essentially, the Republicans believe that they can change the numbers on the first pie chart there. The McCain campaign thinks they can whip the media into a personality-based narrative in the final weeks of the campaign and that coverage of personality scandals, regardless of the tone of the reporting, will ultimately influence people to vote based on personal qualities.

Of course, by extension, the McCain camp believes that the more people do that, the more likely they will be to choose "maverick" McCain and "hockey mom" Palin over "arrogant" Obama.

This is partially why I believe that the continued focus on Palin, even when progressives point out that she's been lying about her record, is ultimately detrimental and feeds into the McCain camps overall strategy. Because the lies are relatively banal, the media will not use that term and will not really press the McCain camp to stop repeating them. GOP surrogates are very deft at pivoting away from questions related to Governor Palin's record toward a discussion of her background as a small town mom or traits like her feistiness, etc.

This is also why the McCain camp has decided to keep Palin by McCain's side for pretty much the rest of the campaign. They welcome the Left's objection that she's hiding from the media and will only agree to puff interviews because it allows for them to continue to distract voters and the media with charges of sexism or the imagery of ruthless packs of wolves. Never mind that one could allege that the McCain camp is being sexist for claiming that Palin cannot handle herself in the media because I'm sure the McCain camp would love to talk about that. Anything to avoid substantive debate based on policies and issues - because they understand that they lose overwhelmingly if voters are focused.

The media is content to go along with this game, even though responsible journalists are beginning to call out the McCain camp for deceptions and even though many deemed pigstick to be irrelevant at best and fabricated at worst. The fact is that the media still covered it ad nauseum because it generated ratings. Palin was able to get her way in terms of "deference," able to force the media (Charlie Gibson has no integrity) to accept her fluff-only interview preconditions because she draws high ratings.

But Obama can cut the bull here. He draws high ratings too and he can leverage some of his influence over the media when really bs stories like this one are being force-fed on the country by the McCain camp. He should have issued a statement calling out pigstick for being what it was but also simply stated that the matter was closed and that his campaign staff and supporters had been encouraged to move on to contrasting the two campaign's education agendas. And I think the media would generally have accepted this from the Obama campaign as reasonable, at least to the point where we might have had a more balanced news day yesterday.


Stop spotlighting Palin. The McCain campaign is juiced to use her as a ratings draw and as a distraction from the repulsive agenda of the GOP and of the McCain-Palin ticket. The left should be working to make her a boring non-factor instead of a polarizing focal point.

When Americans are thinking about issues, we win. We lose when we play on GOP turf like this. We actually have moral high ground in this election because what's gone on the last eight years and because of the lies being put forth by the McCain campaign. We can leverage it to get back to discussing issues and back to dominating news cycles.


On Monday morning, Obama and Biden should talk about the housing crisis and the free falling economy from near one of McCain's several properties in Arizona, kicking off a tour of Western swing states. Especially since McCain's lead in Arizona is much smaller than one might imagine.


cherie said...

Fabulous, insightful, spot-on post.

Anonymous said...

you're getting a little uppity there, Eli...better settle down

Anonymous said...

I agree with Cherie. Very nice post.

E said...

Uppity? Attack!