Rove on McCain

I watched Karl Rove on the O’Reilly show last night. Rove said that McCain’s challenge is to keep himself visible between now and the Republican convention, while the contending Democratic candidates continue to get a lot of press. This point makes sense to me. But I’m not so sure about Rove’s suggestion that McCain use the coming months to tell the public more about himself, for example, the story of how he and his wife adopted a dying infant — now their thriving teenaged daughter — from an Asian orphanage.

I agree that this is a compelling story about McCain and his wife as people, and it should be told, but I do not think it is the main story that he needs to emphasize to voters. McCain’s problem is not that the public perceives him as not being nice. His problem is that many Republican-leaning voters see his history of apparently mean and self-serving political behavior as evidence of disregard for Party and national interest. This perception is not so terrible for a Senator who is otherwise thought to do well by his constituents, but it is potentially fatal for a presidential candidate.

What I think McCain should do instead is explain why his positions on important issues — the war, trade, taxes — are superior to those of the Democratic candidates. If he started doing this early and continued relentlessly, he would not only keep himself visible, and competitive against whichever Democratic candidate eventually is nominated, he would also encourage the Democratic candidates to be more responsive to moderate voters than is currently the case.

On a related point, I agree with Rove’s argument that a long, ugly Democratic nomination battle may not benefit Republicans. By the time Democrats select a nominee they may be so energized that they will unite behind their candidate and have great political momentum going into the Fall — while Republicans, who picked their candidate way back in March, cruise in torpor and lack the will to fight. Group dynamics are tricky, and I think Republicans would be foolish to count on the benefits of an unpredictable chain of events. I think eventual Democratic unity against the Republican candidate is a given, no matter which Democrat is nominated.

16 thoughts on “Rove on McCain”

  1. “What I think McCain should do instead is explain why his positions on important issues — the war, trade, taxes — are superior to those of the Democratic candidates.”

    People who care about that stuff are already going to go with one party or the other.

    The mass of people will vote on intangible like their perception of the personal character of the candidates, as usual. Rove is a pro. I trust his gut on this. The story about the adopted kid will get more marginal and undecided voters than anything wonkish can do.

    To the extent McCains says and does things pertaining to policy that should be aimed at his base, which may be inclined to not vote out of dislike for him. They have to be convinced that Barack or Hillary would be a lot worse. That should not be all that hard. People hold their noses and vote for the lesser evil all the time.

    We can speculate on whether a bruising and protraced nomination battle will help or hurt the Democrats. If it happens, which I hope for, we will get to find out. I see no possible way it helps them. Hillary will have to be very aggressive and bend the rules to win. She is going to try to do it that way, however it comes out. That will generate ammunition for the GOP to use.

    Odds are the Democrats win this election no matter what. McCain is a longshot. He is a senator, and senators are usually bad executives and have poorly run presidential campaigns, see e.g. Dole, Kerry. He is a divisive figure in his own party. He is following a very unpopular president.

    Still, I am hoping that “events, dear boy” continue to favor the GOP candidate.

    If he wins it will be a classic undeserved miracle.

  2. McCain can’t campaign against a Democratic candidate until there is one. Meanwhile, let the Democrats thrash each other uninterrupted and enjoy the show.

  3. Lex…”People who care about that stuff (the war, trade, taxes) are already going to go with one party or the other”…not sure that’s the case. There are lots of people who are concerned about their personal economic situations, and will vote based to a considerable extent on their perception of who will help them most or hurt them least.

    McCain needs to talk very seriously about the dangers of starting a a trade war and what this would imply for Americans. People who work at Boeing, Caterpillar, GE Transportation (and lots of other companies) need to understand that if Obama or Clinton come roaring in with irresponsible protectionist measures, then their export orders are going to dry up very quickly.

    There are also a lot of people who are concerned about their childrens’ education, both K-12 and college, and McCain needs to hit very hard on the point that the “progressives” have been very poor custodians of the public schools.

  4. I know one thing. I was totally disinclined to bother voting this year. I live in Chicago, would never vote for a Democrat, so I’m guessing the Electoral College votes for IL are a lock for Obama.

    But after the past two months of hearing Michelle, learning more about Rezco, Iraqis, splitting up property in real estate, answering only 8 questions, cult-like music videos, unilateral nuclear disarmanment, FARC, little red telephones and monsters… I am definately voting for McCain.

  5. Michael Barone sounds more like Jonathan and David than like me and Karl Rove: “…All of this is a windfall, surely, for McCain — unless he forgets that his party is in trouble and that he needs to make an affirmative case for himself and his policies. And loudly enough to overcome the din as Clinton and Obama pummel each other.”

    So, OK, do everything. McCain needs to do the outreach in terms of character and personality, and he needs to hit hard on the issues where he can distinguish himself. Trade would be huge. Most people would get it. Of course, there is the fear of losing Ohio in the general election. Tactics often dictate strategy. I have also long felt that as David says, education is an area where the Ds are very weak and could be attacked successfully. On defense he should be able to come up with a proposed program that makes more sense than whatever Hillary or Barack come up with.

    McCain should be able to be a very competitive candidate, even if he cannot dig out entirely of the hole Bush has left the GOP in.

    My main fear is that his campaign will be poorly managed and stumble along to defeat, like Dole and Kerry did. Let’s hope McCain is a better manager than his Senatorial predecsssors.

  6. McCain’s opponents are Senators too.

    I agree that education is a huge issue if McCain has it in him to push it.

    The Republicans shouldn’t try to be too clever. Doing so almost cost them the last election, when Bush hung back during the summer. McCain should campaign hard until the election.

  7. “McCain’s opponents are Senators too.”

    Hillary is not “a senator” in the same sense. She has been running for President and inherited her husband machine. She lacks his charisma and political gifts, thank God, so they are of less value to her. But she is not your typical senator who has spent years and years yacking suddenly having to manage and lead and finance a campaign, which is a pretty major executive undertaking. Obama has shown an oddly high level of competence so far. He is a wizard at online fundraising, as Oatrick Ruffini has been reporting in detail, burying Hillary’s numbers. He has seasoned Chicago operatives with him and apparently is letting them handle things. That may explain why the novice seems to be doing so well in terms of organization. In one way he may be like JFK, a cool and self-important personality who is willing to delegate the scut work since it is boring and hard.

  8. She lacks his political gifts, yes. He’s not doing so well himself, these days. Obama has Axelrod and others, yet he’s got politically inept policy advisers (Goolsbee, Power). McCain’s run for President before. I don’t know how it all balances out, but I don’t see McCain as being at a disadvantage.

    Maybe McCain should hire Mitt Romney to manage his campaign.

  9. Yeah, it is tough to say how it will balance out.

    Ruffini has me scared since the GOP seems to be way behind the curve on mastering web-based campaigning and fundraising.

    That may be dispositive. Hope not.

    I agree McCain should run hard every day from now to November.

    He should hammer both Hillary and Barack the whole time.

  10. Isn’t Power gone now? While it seems impossible to think that a Democrat won’t win given the economy (though sometimes it feels like a premature burial), isn’t it becoming harder and harder to imagine either Democrat as president? Perhaps that’s just me. (Earlier I posted a youtube of an Obama speech – much shorter but equally edifying.)

  11. Ginny: My sense of increduliousness about either Democrat candidate is reaching such heights that I think McCain might be able to win.

    But I have no idea. I dont know what others are thinking. Have people shut themselves off to Republicans? That may be the case. Talking to an Obama supporter about anything substantial is like talking to a zombie.

  12. As the economy cobtinues its downward slide and the dollar becomes worth less and less and unemployment figure climb upward and the housing market goes down, McCain will be viewed as same old thing.This is not to say that the GOP is resp;onsible for it all (Greenspan is in part), or that the Dems can fix things, but historyu shows that voters demand big change as a hopeful antidote.

  13. Oh the corruption is starting to stink:

    During his 12 years in politics, Sen. Barack Obama has received nearly three times more campaign cash from indicted businessman Tony Rezko and his associates than he has publicly acknowledged, the Chicago Sun-Times has found.

    Obama has collected at least $168,308 from Rezko and his circle. Obama also has taken in an unknown amount of money from people who attended fund-raising events hosted by Rezko since the mid-1990s.
    But seven months ago, Obama told the Sun-Times his “best estimate” was that Rezko raised “between $50,000 and $60,000″ during Obama’s political career.

  14. McCain is not the perfect candidate, but, then again he does not have to be. He only has to be less imperfect than Hillbilly or He Who Must Not Be Middle Named. Democrats like to thump their chests and claim that they have the two best candidates, ever, in any election. The truth is that they are both very flawed.

    Hillbilly is corrupt, mendacious, and unhuman. HWMNBMN is a completely inexperienced vaporizer of inane slogans. In future years, Democrats will wonder how a party that could produce substantial public servants like Mike Dukakis and Walter Mondale as its standard bearers, managed to nominate one of these clowns.

    It might well be that a good Democrat candidate would win over George W. Bush this year. But no such candidate is running against George. McCain is holding three aces, and the Democrats need the Jack of Diamonds to fill the hole in their straight flush. I am betting on McCain. I think the Jack was in one of the hands that folded.

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