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.