It’s Too Late To Fix McCain’s Message

by Venomous Kate

Writing about a “Reverse-Bradley effect“, Kathleen Parker explains in today’s WaPo that many Republicans, who’ve grown disgusted with McCain’s campaign, are secretly planning to vote for Obama instead.

I’ve received too many e-mails and had too many conversations that began, “Just between you and me,” and ended with, “I wouldn’t want anyone at work to know,” to believe that this is an insignificant trend.

Indeed, it’s a definite possibility. I know. I’ve found myself on more than one occasion wondering just what McCain’s offering, what kind of message he’s trying to send with his snap-decisions to suspend his campaign one day and pussyfooting around the financial crisis the next.

I’ve even toyed with the idea, suggested by Will Wallace here, to stay home on election day to punish the Republican party for having chosen McCain as their candidate. But I like to bitch, and unless I cast my vote I don’t see that I’ve got much right to do so. Still, the idea is a tempting one, given the pitiful campaign that John McCain has run after having miraculously been named his party’s nominee.

And by “miraculous”, I mean that: just over four years ago, after scoring the Democratic presidential nomination, John Kerry had one name at the top of his list of prospective running mates: Arizona Senator John McCain. McCain has consistently denied such overtures were made, much less considered.

Yet the rumor’s persistence points to one of the greatest weaknesses in McCain’s bid for the White House: he is too liberal to be a conservative, and too conservative to be a liberal. This, he contends, is part of what makes him a Maverick. Yet his downfall may stem from his inability to craft and convey a message that appeals to either side.

With 26 years of Washington experience, John McCain also has a record that does not sit well with his own party’s primary base. Between his positions on illegal immigration, Roe v. Wade and his opposition to the Bush Administration’s treatment of terrorist detainees, few top conservatives favored him as the nominee.

As a result, John McCain has had to run a campaign in which he’s wooing not only undecided and independent voters, but voters from within the Republican party, too. Yet he appears to be failing in both regards. McCain’s 8 point mid-October poll deficit (which now may be as high as 10 points) has only been overcome by one candidate in the past 50 years: Ronald Reagan. But John McCain is no Ronald Reagan: he lacks the charisma, the personality and, most importantly, the support of the religious right.

For a time, it appeared as if Sarah Palin’s nomination as Vice President would address McCain’s shortcomings. As a Bible-thumping, pro-life Mom in favor of gun ownership, Palin not only appealed to the far right within the Republican party, but to disenfranchised Hillary Clinton supporters as well.

With McCain’s failure to address the issues of concern to many Americans (hint: it’s about the economy, stupid), he’s frittered away the post-convention bump in the polls she delivered. Top conservative pundits, already fleeing the GOP after Palin’s nomination, are now being joined by Florida seniors and blue-collar white women, both previously considered solid voting blocs for McCain.

Meanwhile, McCain’s messy message has failed to appeal to independent and undecided voters. In fact, his dogged insistence on attacking Obama actually played into Democrats hands, providing the Senator from Illinois an opportunity to score with voters as he pointed out what McCain’s own campaign just doesn’t get:

“With the economy in turmoil and the American Dream at risk, the American people don’t want to hear politicians attack each other… You want to hear about how we’re going to attack the challenges facing the middle class each and every day.”

While there are plenty of reasons to attack Obama — his ties to an unrepentant racist, to an unrepentant domestic terrorist, and to unrepentant racketeer and felon come to mind, as does his posturing as a working class stiff when he’s anything but one. Yet the time for those attacks had long since passed. Still, even as voters turned against McCain, his campaign remained in the “attack, attack, attack” mode described by Joe Biden.

Ignoring his slip in the polls like the “Maverick” he claims to be, McCain continues to run those very ads, most recently trotting out — at long last — the “Blind Ambition” ad tying Obama with William Ayers… an ad which nevertheless ignores Obama’s ties to Ayers’ wife, the likely head of the terrorist group The Weather Underground. But that move may have only reinforced McCain’s biggest weakness among independent and undecided voters: his image as a petty, mean-spirited man – a character depiction that has haunted McCain throughout this race.

For all its virulence, McCain’s attack strategy did nothing to take advantage of his post-convention bump, nor has it since done anything to distinguish the candidate from President Bush, whom a majority of Americans — from both parties — blame for the economy’s troubles.

“Either McCain wins the argument over the economy or he loses,” said Newt Gingrich, the former Republican Speaker of the House. “When the economy is this central to everybody’s life, when everybody is as worried as they are now, then when you are not talking about the economy you are not winning.”

For every opportunity he has to talk about the economy in solid, clear-cut terms, McCain backs off, hesitating to go for the knockout with a clearly honed explanation of the pitfalls behind Obama’s “share the wealth” plan. Nor has he made much effort to elaborate on why Obama cannot keep his promise to cut taxes and implement his costly policies, and the obvious conclusion: one of those promises must be a lie.

Meanwhile, McCain’s choices have cost him the media’s attention as well. Until recently he’d continued an inexplicable and self-indulgent policy of taking entire weekends off. As a result, in the five weeks leading up to the final debate, team Obama (consisting of the candidate, his wife, and vice-presidential nominee Joe Biden), separately appeared at 95 political events in battleground states.

During that same period, McCain’s camp made a mere 55 stops. The result somewhat accounts for the imbalance in media reporting: more newsworthy events get more press coverage. Add to that the increased exposure Obama’s TV ads that are outnumbering McCain’s 3 to 1 — not including his recent purchase of a half-hour of prime time television on Oct. 29 — and it’s easy to understand why McCain has now decided to cast himself as the underdog.

But if he is an underdog, it’s due to his own campaign choices. Why continue to focus on Obama’s curious and questionable friends and alliances when it’s obviously not playing well with voters? Why hammer on the message of dangerous inexperience when the polls clearly show people are more interested in policy? Is McCain so disengaged with his own party’s platform that he can’t portray himself otherwise — too conservative to be a liberal, and too liberal to be a conservative?

Yes, I’ll be casting a vote for McCain but by doing so I’m not so much voting for him as I’m voting against Obama. And just as WaPo’s Kathleen Parker advises Obama that he shouldn’t take a victory on his part as a mandate so much as a vote against McCain, I’d hope McCain realizes the reverse is true, too. If he wins it won’t be on the basis of a well-run campaign; it will simply be because he’s not that one.

11 Comments to “It’s Too Late To Fix McCain’s Message”

  1. AP poll today showed Obama at 44, McCain at 43. I don’t think there’s ever any prediction to made.

    Being in Ohio, I voted today (without any real proof of identity except knowing my driver’s license number, btw). And like you, I cast my vote against Obama. Not actually FOR anybody.

    I hate years like this.

    Jaes last blog post..Flat on my back

  2. After reading your entire post and getting more worried by the second that you had gone soft, I was happy to see that in the end you still plan to vote against Obama. We need to remember polls are tricky things. The media love Obama. They are polling in predominantly democrat areas, and I do beleive that democrats like to tell everything about themselves to whomever will listen, while Republicans/conservatives tend to keep those things to themselves. I have not yet given up hope for an Obama loss. I would hope everyone else, no matter your feelings for McCain, will vote against Obama because no matter how lame McCain may be, he is not a socialist like Obama.

  3. I’m with you, Venom. I’m not a fan of Obama at all, but McCain is just plain pissing me off with a bad, ineffective campaign these past couple of months, and I’m now leaning towards Ron Paul or for Chuck Baldwin (of the Constitution Party) on November 4. Which is a shame because I was a big fan of McCain in 2000.

    Jaynees last blog post..The Great Pumpkin

  4. If a candidate fails at running his own campaign, how can he be entrusted to run the country ?

    We are at a pivital point in time for both our country and the planet…that so many are driven to cast their one vote ‘against’ rather than ” for ” – a vote so many have fought and died to ensure we have the right to have…
    sad and tragic…..

  5. I am voting for Palin.

    She is the first candidate in this whole miserable election season that is from the Republican wing of the Republican party.

    I’m good with that.

    She knows what her positions are. Everyone else running is running away from their positions. She is running towards her positions in order to carry her positions into the future.

    I want her to succeed.

    She actually conveys her belief in what she says as she says it. The rest ooze cynicism and irony.

    I speak what I believe. I avoid cynicism and irony. I am Sarah Palin, except that she works harder than me.

    I will vote to support her to be my representative in this Republic, because she is me, only better.

  6. I will not vote for Obama. I cannot support McCain and his lack of any real campaign. There are third parties out there,and I will be voting for them.

    Why don’t we hear more about the third parties? Everybody says they want change, but everybody keeps voting for the same parties/people year after year after year. That’s no way to get change.

  7. I’ve already voted. When you get right down to it, the choice was between an administration of domestic appeasement or domestic socialism. Neither were appealing choices. I wanted to be able to vote for a leader and was denied the opportunity. Blech.

    Jeffs last blog post..Phasers On Stun

  8. I voted last night, and sent it in this morning.

    It was neat to sit with Thing #2 (8 yr old) and explain to her why a voter’s ballot is important, for her homework. :)

    wgs last blog post..And the vote is in!

  9. Dole II

  10. I voted today in early voting. It was easy to pull the lever for McCain. Father was in navy aviation and McCain was considered a bona fide hero an great man in the community. With serving family members, a weak president, which Obama would surely be, was unacceptable. There is no substitute for victory. And Palin has been a revelation. She has a real future. Having lived in Alaska while at Ft. Rich, she embodies the type of pragmatic conservatism that I saw up there.

    The tax issue made it that much easier to vote for McCain. My BIL worked for over 20 years to own his own auto shop. It was his American Dream, not a “fantasy”. Opened it a few years ago. It is thriving. He has three bays and two mechanics and wants to add another bay and another mechanic or two. Obama’s tax increases will hit him in the pocketbook. The extra 100K in taxes, on income earned turning a wrench, could have paid for that bay and mechanic. Want to hurt the economy, make it hard for small businesses to grow.

    As I said, filling in the bubble next to John McCain’s name was easy.

    The Opinionators last blog post..The Opinionator Has Voted!

  11. Well reasoned balanced post. It is quite sad and almost incredible to see the John McCain of today. I have to concur with Kate’s views about his campaign choices and then take it further to wonder in light of his inconsistencies how he would manage as a President. The light is dimming for him. I suspect he’ll do something this week that will leave some of us cheering at the sight of the old John McCain.

    Dees last blog post..Financial Crisis – Alternatives for Lawyers