Let McCain be McCain

May 26, 2008

How McCain can get his campaign back on track

There has been a recent spate of headlines bemoaning the Republican campaign. According to inside information it is highly disorganised and chaotic. My view is that McCain’s problems lie deeper than that. Although I have always rated McCain’s chances more highly than virtually everyone else, this time last year TPT suggested that McCain had chances of winning the nomination were relatively low unless he moved to the centre on economic issues, changed his campaign staff and stood his ground on immigration. In the event I was wrong as he managed to win by emphasising the Iraq war and leveraging Lieberman’s endorsement, the most significant event of the primary season, into a win in New Hampshire. Additionally, Obama’s numerous flaws gives him a very good chance of victory in November (in fact I am probably alone in still considering him the overwhelming favourite with about a 75% chance of victory at worst). However, I believe that McCain needs to do five things to maximise his chances for victory, all of which send a message to the electorate that he, rather than the Republican party is in control.

The first thing that McCain needs to do is to centralise his campaign. Although some day to day operations can be delegated, he needs to have his campaign, and the various state parties, putting forward one consistant message. Although, it was good to see him condemn the North Carolina GOP, he really needed to make sure that such ads were not aired at all. He also needs to make sure that the campaign is controlled by people who have his best interests at heart, and so are not willing to expend the necessary political capital and personal contacts to ensure that the campaign is effective (or worse actively use the campaign to build up their own stores of political capital), not by people who view him as the lesser of two evils or people looking to atone for past sins by refusing to lay a glove on Obama.

This leads me to my second point that McCain needs to start going after Obama. While the politics of dog-whistling should have no place in American politics, there is nothing wrong with questioning Obama’s credentials on foreign policy. McCain needs to come up with a group of surrogates who have strong national security credentials. Having Giuliani, Lieberman and even Republicans like Fred Thompson hammering away at Obama day after day on Wright, Ayers and foreign policy is far better than doing nothing, or leaving it to Bush. With Barr’s nomination as the Libertarian party’s nominee McCain also needs to do what the Humphrey campaign did to George Wallace and get a group of people persuading conservatives that voting for the Barr/Root ticket would be a disaster.

McCain also needs to keep emphasising Iraq. Although most polls show people that America is firmly anti-war more people trust McCain on Iraq than Obama and no dovish candidate has ever won a foriegn policy election. By moving the election to foreign policy, McCain can tap into the Republican’s traditional strengths on ‘daddy issues’ and also galvanise both the base and ‘Lieberdems’ on the one issue that unites them. I also firmly believe that Obama, and his wackier supporters, are fundamentally incapable of leaving such issues alone. There is even a strong case for outflanking Bush and Petraeus on the right and calling for a year long freeze in troop withdrawals (or even more troops). Not only will this undermine the notion that he is tied to Bush, but if the terrorists try a surge of their own, with the aim of disrupting the US elections, it may be strategically necessary.

However, the one thing that McCain needs to do is to be himself. This may sound cliched but McCain is most convincing when he is fighting for something that he believes in. Unlike Hillary, John McCain is no good at reinventing himself, and he is far better as a Republican version of JFK than as either a Thompson Republican or an Eisenhower Republican. The reason why I believe it would be a mistake to select Romney, Jindal or some nameless CEO is that it would show that he was unable to impose his leadership on the Republican party. Indeed, the previous three suggestions; rearranging his staff, attacking Obama and stressing Iraq are all three variations on the same theme, that to misquote Aaron Sorkin, ‘let McCain be McCain’. Indeed, McCain’s most effective moments, whether bashing Ron Paul, supporting the surge the ‘Miss Congeniality’ advert or being endorsed by Lieberman have all been moments when he has not run away from his beliefs or his character.


One comment

  1. Dude, you sound desperate.

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