Friday, October 24, 2008

GOP forms circular firing squad

I found this story through the Politico:

With despair rising even among many of John McCain’s own advisers, influential Republicans inside and outside his campaign are engaged in an intense round of blame-casting and rear-covering — much of it virtually conceding that an Election Day rout is likely.

A McCain interview published Thursday in The Washington Times sparked the latest and most nasty round of finger-pointing, with senior GOP hands close to President Bush and top congressional aides denouncing the candidate for what they said was an unfocused message and poorly executed campaign.

McCain told the Times that the administration “let things get completely out of hand” through eight years of bad decisions about Iraq, global warming, and big spending.

The candidate’s strategists in recent days have become increasingly vocal in interviews and conference calls about what they call unfair news media coverage and Barack Obama’s wide financial advantage — both complaints laying down a post-election storyline for why their own efforts proved ineffectual.

These public comments offer a whiff of an increasingly acrid behind-the-scenes GOP meltdown — a blame game played out through not-for-attribution comments to reporters that operatives know will find their way into circulation.

Top Republican officials have let it be known they are distressed about McCain’s organization. Coordination between the McCain campaign and Republican National Committee, always uneven, is now nearly dysfunctional, with little high-level contact and intelligence-sharing between the two.

“There is no communication,” lamented one top Republican. “It drives you crazy.”

At his Northern Virginia headquarters, some McCain aides are already speaking of the campaign in the past tense. Morale, even among some of the heartiest and most loyal staffers, has plummeted. And many past and current McCain advisers are warring with each other over who led the candidate astray.

One well-connected Republican in the private sector was shocked to get calls and resumes in the past few days from what he said were senior McCain aides — a breach of custom for even the worst-off campaigns.

“It’s not an extraordinarily happy place to be right now,” said one senior McCain aide. “I’m not gonna lie. It’s just unfortunate.”

“If you really want to see what ‘going negative’ is in politics, just watch the back-stabbing and blame game that we’re starting to see,” said Mark McKinnon, the ad man who left the campaign after McCain wrapped up the GOP primary. “And there’s one common theme: Everyone who wasn’t part of the campaign could have done better.”

“The cake is baked,” agreed a former McCain strategist. “We’re entering the finger-pointing and positioning-for-history part of the campaign. It’s every man for himself now.”

A circular firing squad is among the most familiar political rituals of a campaign when things aren’t going well. But it is rare for campaign aides to be so openly participating in it well before Election Day.

The McCain campaign has gone beyond its self-destructive phase. Not only are the rats jumping off the re-arranged deck chairs of the sinking U.S.S. John McCain, but they are now pointing fingers at each other even before the campaign finishes sinking. We even have John McCain now blaming George Bush for his loss, saying that the administration “let things get completely out of hand,” even though John McCain has completely agreed with the Bush administration's domestic and foreign policies. It is just that incredible.

Looking back on the McCain campaign, I think the self-destruction really started when John McCain performed his control-alt-delete rebooting of his campaign by demoting campaign manager Rick Davis and handing control of his campaign over to the Rovians. John McCain ran a pretty decent primary, if only because the Republican base was fractured by the differing candidates appealing to differing interest groups--the Religious conservatives loved Mike Huckabee, the business and corporate interests were interested in Mitt Romney, and Rudy Giuliani was a "Noun, a Verb, and a 9/11." The competing interests preferred their man, while criticizing the other candidates--the Religious Right didn't like Romney's Mormonism, the corporate interests didn't like Huckabee's extremism, and Giuliani could only talk about 9/11. Even the once media-speculating, white knight, Fred Thompson seemed like he only wanted to play an actor running for president, rather than becoming a real candidate running for president. And where was John McCain in all this? John McCain was pandering to everybody, trying to be everybody's friend. That made all the conservative and corporate interests initially suspicious of McCain. I think John McCain won the GOP nomination because he was the only one left standing, as Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani, Fred Thompson, and Mitt Romney, all ended up dropping out of the race. John McCain was literally the last man standing not because the GOP nominated him due to McCain's vision and political views, but because competing interests squabbled over the other candidates during the primary season, dropping them out and leaving McCain as the eventual nominee.

The trouble began when the McCain campaign shifted from a primary campaign to a general election campaign. McCain mainly ran a primary stressing strong, conservative, support for the U.S. war in Iraq. The subprime mortgage crisis was becoming an issue, however the financial crisis did not hit the U.S. John McCain continued running his experience message over that of Democratic candidate Barack Obama's message of change. The obvious question that the McCain staff should have asked then is why should McCain continue his message of experience over change, when Hillary Clinton lost to Obama on the very same message? McCain ran a strong, conservative primary, supporting strong, conservative policies--strong, conservative policies that he would have to backpedal on if he wanted to garner the moderates and independents. So the McCain message for the general election campaign was completely screwed up. In addition, the McCain campaign emphasized McCain's strong foreign policy credentials, and his strong support for the U.S. war in Iraq. This was fine during the primary season, when the war was occupying America's attention. But by August / September, the attention had shifted from the war to the economy, something McCain professed that he didn't know much about. Toss in some of the gaffes McCain made during the primary season (Bomb bomb bomb Iran? America's problems are psychological?), and I even wondered if John McCain was losing it. John McCain had already rebooted his campaign once in early April, 2007, where McCain went from being a critic of the Bush war in Iraq, to being a staunch supporter. But then in early July of this year, McCain rebooted his campaign again, elevating Rovian Steve Schmidt to giving full control of the McCain campaign.

The Rovians decided that, in order for McCain to win control of the White House, they would use the same 2004 playbook of fear-mongering, negative campaigning, and limiting access of the candidate to the press, for the McCain campaign that once worked for George Bush's 2004 re-election campaign. The Rovians decided to bring out the base for McCain, just like they did for George W. Bush in both of his elections. Looking back, I could see some of the Rovians' handiwork during the general election. They first limited the mainstream press exposure of John McCain. This certainly limited some of the McCain gaffes, but it also angered the mainstream press that was use to their bull sessions with McCain on the Straight Talk Express. These bull sessions that McCain would give to the press, the stories that McCain would tell to the reporters, is what gave the McCain campaign a very good relationship with the press, even to the point where the press would play down some of the McCain gaffes, or happily regurgitate the McCain talking points without much criticism. That all changed from around August to September, when the press started calling out McCain for his campaign's lobbying ties, the vetting of Sarah Palin and her inexperience, McCain's denials that the U.S. economy was in a recession, and even McCain's negative attack ads against Obama. The Rovians decided to focus their general election campaign as one of complete smear and mudslinging against Barack Obama--Obama will surrender to the terrorist, Obama is connected to terrorists (Bill Ayers), Obama snorted coke, Obama will raise your taxes, negative ad after negative ad after negative ad. John McCain does not present much of a campaign based on a vision for this country's future, or even one on hope for this country. It is all about attacking Barack Obama. Even more surprising was that the Rovians realized that the experience message of McCain was not working, and decided to co-opt the Obama message of change--Barack Obama was not a president of change, John McCain is really a president of change.

Of course, the biggest change that the Rovians made in the McCain campaign was in the selection of Sarah Palin for McCain's vice presidential running mate. Sarah Palin was not John McCain's first choice for the vice presidential candidate--McCain was considering Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman for the VP slot. This Lieberman VP speculation prompted Karl Rove to directly step into the campaign and call Lieberman, asking him to withdrawal his name from the VP short list. Rove's choice for McCain's VP pick was Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. So there was some machinations going on in the McCain camp over who the VP pick would be. The Huffington Post's Sidney Blumenthal reported, on August 31, 2008, that McCain made "an impulsive decision to prove his independence in reaction to pressure from Karl Rove, who was lobbying for Mitt Romney." Blumenthal reported that Karl Rove wanted Romney, and pushed him. McCain pushed back in wanting Lieberman. The Palin nomination was "McCain establishing himself apart from the Bush/Rove political operation." Sarah Palin became a political compromise between Karl Rove and John McCain. Palin could be acceptable choice for the Rovians, since she completely energized the conservative base when she stepped out on the Republican National Convention to give her acceptance speech. The problem with Sarah Palin was that after her RNC acceptance speech performance, Palin had shown herself to be completely unqualified for the vice president's office. There was no proper vetting by the McCain campaign of Sarah Palin. Even worst, it was the media that vetted Sarah Palin, revealing the Troopergate scandal, Palin's contradiction with the Bridge to Nowhere, and even Palin's excessive charging the state of Alaska for travel expenses. Sarah Palin had no clue of either foreign policy or domestic policy experience--remember Palin's puzzled look of ABC's Charlie Gibson on the question of defining the Bush Doctrine? Palin showed herself to be completely unqualified, completely unable to answer questions from the press, completely unable to even define what a vice president's role is. It is no wonder that Sarah Palin's negative ratings are now higher than her positive ratings.

Finally, the political landscape is far different from 2004, where Americans were concerned and afraid of where the country was heading in the war in Iraq. In 2004, Bush could present the question of changing a horses' rider in midstream. However this September, the nation's worries were not focused on the Iraq war, but rather the financial meltdown that occurred as a result of the subprime housing woes. The fear changed from the war to the economy, and with the Republicans still in control of the White House, no amount of fear-mongering could sway Americans from supporting Obama as to handling economic issues better than McCain. The Rovians' 2004 election playbook is not working for the 2008 election because the country has changed so much over these past eight Bush administration years. And yet, they do not get it.

However, the American voters are getting it. They don't want another Bush third term under John McCain and Sarah Palin. It is why you are seeing the state polls going towards an Obama blue. I'm not saying that Barack Obama has won the election over John McCain, but rather that John McCain will find it much more difficult to win over the states that even George Bush had won in 2000 and 2004--states like Ohio, Indiana, Iowa, New Mexico (2004), Colorado, and Virginia. All of these states show Obama having a lead over McCain. And McCain still has to defend such toss-up states as Nevada, Montana, Florida, Missouri, Indiana, and North Carolina. I'm not sure if there is a strategy that McCain can enact, to win, in less than 11 days before the election. John McCain could still win the election. But if the political events continue trending the way they are, until November 4th, then John McCain's chances of gaining the keys to the Oval Office will continue to slip away. And now that things are so bad at the McCain campaign, the McCain staffers and Rovians are starting to form their own circular firing squad in blaming each other for the McCain campaign's self-destruction. While I may blame the Rovians for the destruction of McCain's general election campaign, if McCain loses the election, everyone in the McCain campaign had a hand in this potentially total loss--even John McCain himself.

Eleven days to go until the election.

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