With his lead continuing to slip in the polls, and electoral votes moving away from his column, John McCain is in trouble. Such as loss in the metrics this close to the election doesn’t bode well for the Senator from Arizona, though the fat lady hasn’t quite warmed up yet. I think there are three things that have led to this situation for McCain: the economy, Palin, and bad campaign management.
It’s The Economy, Mr. McCain
The economy continues to tank, and the Bush administration is doing all they can to help out after the bailout bill has failed to produce the hope in the markets they were banking on. So, it’s obvious what’s to be done in such a situation if you’re a presidential candidate: talk about it! Offer up your own take on the crisis, and your own plan to solve it. It doesn’t necessarily mean get in the way of the government’s work, but you help your own chances of being elected if you’re seen as ready to face the crisis.
The problem is that while McCain started off in this vein, with the so-called campaign suspension, once the bailout bill passed, he almost immediately switched gears, even though the crisis was still in full force. He went on the attack against Obama, trying to link William Ayers and Obama.
I think it was a mistake for McCain to switch to the subject as fully as he did. There’s an economic crisis going on, and McCain decides to switch to something else? If I was a voter who didn’t follow politics as much, I might be inclined to think that McCain doesn’t care about the economy.
It’s all right to bring up questions about past associations, but it became an almost pervasive and all encompassing part of their strategy. It looked desperate, as if they thought they can’t win on the economy. Now, McCain chose to stay away from the Ayers issue at the second debate (which brought the ire of some conservatives), but I think that’s when he began to see this new strategy as ineffective. However, not everyone in the McCain camp may be thinking this rollback was wise; I’ll get back to that later.
Vetting Those Choices
Choosing your Vice Presidential running mate may be one of the most important choices of your campaign. The choice of Sarah Palin, though not previously unconsidered, was one a bit out of left field. It energized the base and even got Independents to weigh their options more heavily.
Yet, when it came time to meet the real Sarah Palin, there were things that turned people off. I don’t think it was the folksy, soccer-mom-and-strong-leader personality. For me, at least, it was her thought toward national issues. The problem is that there doesn’t appear to have been much of this, except perhaps on energy.
It became quite apparent during the interviews with Charles Gibson, and particularly Katie Couric, that Palin isn’t quite ready for the national stage. At least, not for Vice President. Say what you will about Barack Obama, but he has clearly given about the issues affecting the nation. So have Biden and McCain, for the matter. But, Palin’s focus has mostly been on Alaska, and while that may make you a good governor of that state, it doesn’t mean you’re ready for the big time.
Instead, the McCain campaign had to embark on a two or three week cram session before any serious interviews, and when those interviews finally aired, it was pretty easy to differentiate what she had thought about herself, and what were crammed talking points. Yet, cramming is almost never an effective strategy to learn something. Any high school or college student could tell you that. You typically don’t do as well on a test after a night of cramming as compared to studying the information over a period of time. So why should preparing for an interview in that way be any different?
If Palin had already given some thought to national issues beyond energy, those interviews would have undoubtedly turned out different, as should would have been more prepared to respond with her own views, instead of reverting to talking points, or looking completely clueless on national television. Even if her own views were somewhat different than McCain’s in a particular response, that’s easier to reconicle than being unable to answer a question. She’s done it nicely in regards to ANWR drilling, for instance. Then there’s also an argument that if they let Palin be herself, rather than a talking point generator, it may also have gone better.
I think given a few years of forming her platform on a number of issues, Palin could be ready to return to the nation scene, perhaps for a presidential run herself.
Disagreeing to Agree
Finally, both of the above section partially contribute to this final reason for where John McCain has gone wrong: bad campaign management.
This wouldn’t be the first time McCain has seen it. He’s shaken up his staff at least twice before. The first time was in July of 2007 due to his inability to raise funds. The second time was when McCain put Steve Schmidt in charge of day-to-day operation of the campaign because of several reason, including trouble staying on message. So, could McCain be facing a third major campaign management failure?
It’s possible, and some of it may come from his fellow maverick, Sarah Palin. First, there was Palin’s very public disagreement with McCain over abandoning Michigan. She even ended up going to the state herself after he left. And now there are reports that there is possibly dissent within the campaign over how far to go on the subject of Obama’s connections.
Since last Tuesday night, McCain began to backpeddle on the severity of his attacks on Obama-Ayers and didn’t bring it up at the debate. He also took time the other day to disspell the fears some of his supporters have over Obama. Yet, Palin apparently isn’t in agreement with this reversal in strategy, arguing supporters want the campaign to go even tougher, though even she seems to have settled on the inevitable, switching instead to Obama’s support for abortion.
Now, I know the Vice Presidency is a separately elected position, but the way the system is set up now-a-days, the person selected as running mate would probably do well to follow the example of the person who selected them. This means that if they want to change what subjects to bring up, public disagreements on the matter are not wise.
If you have issues with the running of the campaign, bring it up in private! Doing it in public makes it looks like things within the campaign are on rocky ground. And if that’s true, who’s to say it won’t be the same in that person’s administration? And what voter wants that? If someone can’t run the campaign, how can they run a government?
Other campaign management issues come from what I discussed above with the Palin selection itself. Many commentators say the problems she’s had in interviews and at the debate stem from the cram session she’s been subjected to. The argument is that if left to her own devices, Palin does better in that type of situation. Perhaps. I can see why they’d have her do all that studying, though. Without a platform on national issues to call her own, they had to essentially give her McCain’s. Yet, as I explained above, it came out badly in the end, because she didn’t have anything of her own to back up on when she forgot what she studied.
So, it’s not clear who exactly fingers can be pointed at for destabalizing the campaign, but one thing is clear: McCain ultimately is the one who ends up with the hot potato, and it may prove fatal.
There are definitely other reasons McCain is doing poorly, but I see the ones discussed in this article as some of the biggest problems. Still, McCain can’t expect to get a landslide when his party has an economic crisis occur on their watch. Yet, even with all this, I’m not ready to say that McCain has lost. It’s still too early for that.
On the other hand, McCain’s ship may be too little too late to upright in time to pass the finish line. The next couple weeks should tell us for sure.
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