26 June 2008

Team Maverick begins to misfire

John McCain's greatest strengths -- his convictions and his loyalty -- likely are also his greatest weaknesses. Long considering himself an outsider among GOP circles, McCain has cobbled together a small group of intensely loyal surrogates, instead of, like George W. Bush in 2000 or Mitt Romney this year, making the umbrella large and taking in comers from all sides of the GOP. Perhaps this is simply an incorrect assumption, but many political analysts suggest that the team assembled by McCain to guide his presidential run during the summer and fall will be, as usual, rather lean and insular.

This is a bad idea for a number of reasons. Chief among them is the simple fact that had Rudy Guiliani not ignored the first four primaries, had Mike Huckabee not knocked off Mitt Romney in Iowa (halting Romney's momentum and delivering McCain a narrow victory in New Hampshire several days later), and had Fred Thompson dropped out before South Carolina instead of afterward, McCain's political team might not look so brilliant. Much of McCain's success can likely be attributed not to the advice of his strategists, but rather, sheer luck and, perhaps less significantly, McCain's presence in the media and on the stump. While he trusts and respects his advisers, he appears at town halls and on talk shows not because his advisers suggest it, but because he loves talking to people.

And a problem might be emerging. The Senior Senator's small group of highly trusted advisers seem to have convinced themselves that if McCain simply carries his message to the voters in a purely issue-driven campaign, Barack Obama can be beaten. The reality, however, as has been written in this space before, is that the current political climate is dangerously toxic for the GOP, and if McCain doesn't try to cut Obama off at the knees at every corner, he will lose. Badly.

McCain must inject new voices into his inner circle. Team Maverick needs new blood-- perhaps even Dick Morris or -- gasp -- Karl Rove -- to bring new perspectives to the table and remind McCain that he must attack, attack, attack. (As divisive a force as Rove has been, the man simply is a brilliant strategist.) As also has been noted here before, McCain must take a lesson from the Clintons: For all his nonsensical platitudes about hope and post-partisanship, Obama clearly can be goaded into a fight with a bit of simple mudslinging. Perhaps new voices within the Senior Senator's tight circle are a necessity to remind him that running a biography campaign, as McCain's group has hinted that they will do, is a surefire way to get slaughtered.

20 June 2008

The Changemaker = fraud

It's no surprise that after the money began pouring in from academics, Hollywood and Hyde Park elites and starving college kids who gave their meal money to Howard Dean four years ago, Barack Obama has done a complete 180 and changed course on accepting public financing. He will outman and outspend McCain by a considerable margin.

But per David Brooks:

"In January 2007, he told Larry King that the public-financing system works. In February 2007, he challenged Republicans to limit their spending and vowed to do so along with them if he were the nominee. In February 2008, he said he would aggressively pursue spending limits. He answered a Midwest Democracy Network questionnaire by reminding everyone that he has been a longtime advocate of the public-financing system."

So after NAFTA-gate, Rezkogate, Wrightgate (and subsequently, throw-grandma-under-the-bus- gate) and a host of others, it's no surprise that Barack Obama, the most captivating, magnanimous politician of our lifetimes and the man who promises to transform Washington, retracted his promises to take public financing (and thus be limited in his spending) and unabashedly lied to the American people. It's worth asking how much more of a free pass he will get from the media. This is the biggest story of the election cycle thus far, and it will likely be brushed aside.

However, regardless of whether the story receives significant play, this is another enormous piece of ammunition for McCain to use come September. As has been written in this space before, he must attack Obama's extremist record and his empty promises. He must paint Obama for what he is: Not a transformative public figure, but rather a conventional liberal politician from Chicago who is willing to say anything and throw anyone under the bus to get ahead. He must attack Obama's truthfulness, his character and his image, because only one word comes to mind:


If you're an Obama supporter and still can find nothing wrong with the man, we suggest you put down your copy of The Nation, turn off "Countdown" and do some digging.

19 June 2008

The Veepstakes, Part II, Cont.

McCain and his advisers must keep in mind the harsh political reality: In this toxic environment for the GOP, McCain is the clear underdog. Both he and Obama have obvious weaknesses, but Obama's (lack of foreign policy wherewithal) could be addressed by the choice of a Joe Biden or Jim Webb.

It's a somewhat risky proposition, but in this corner of the internet, McCain is encouraged to move toward the center with his choice. He gains nothing by choosing Mitt Romney or Rob Portman, as voters in Pennsylvania, Missouri, Wisconsin and other states with large swaths of Reagan Democrats will react ambivalently. Although both Romney and Portman would shore up McCain's support among core conservatives, simply reinforcing his base is not a winning strategy. The number of self-identified Democrats significantly outnumbers the number of self-identified Republicans, and McCain must be mindful of such.

Iraq, Katrina, Schiavo, Abramoff, DeLay, Craig, Vitter -- each word holds a dreadful connotation for the GOP. Obama's base is simply much larger than McCain's, especially in this political environment. So McCain must gamble. He must reinforce his national security and pro-life credentials to conservatives (NARAL-Pro Choice America has given the Senior Senator a lifetime rating of 4%), but simultaneously needs to reach out to disenchanted HRC supporters, blue-collar voters, Hispanics and the growing crowd of centrist Democrats like the Chairman who are wary of Obama's extremism. McCain must capitalize on his bipartisan appeal. It's the only way he can win.

Obama, mindful of McCain's cross-party appeal, will make every attempt to tie McCain to Bush in an effort to bury him. By choosing a running mate who, like Rice, Ridge or Bloomberg, has a centrist record and bipartisan appeal, McCain pushes Obama further left. Similar to how HRC consolidated the relative centrist Democratic core and painted Obama as an elitist, McCain must highlight his well-deserved maverick, bipartisan reputation and make a statement about the kind of administration he intends to run. After choosing a centrist running mate, he must highlight Obama's laughable extremism (further left, according to the nonpartisan National Journal, than self-avowed socialist Bernie Sanders) and empty rhetoric. McCain must brand Obama "liberal" and dismantle his mindless rhetoric, a mere house of cards. By staking a claim to the political center, McCain can push Obama to the left and force him to run on his record. If he is able to do this, he will have given himself a chance.

17 June 2008

The Veepstakes, Part II

Returning from a prolonged vacation that included an Iron Maiden concert and two NASCAR races, it's good to see the Chairman picking up the slack in my absence.

It's been awhile since the first Veepstakes, so a second installment is long overdue.

On the GOP side, the frontrunner spot is a literal toss-up between at least half a dozen individuals, ranging from current or former Bush cabinet officials to complete Washington outsiders to (gulp) a Democrat. But in the spirit of competition and ruffling feathers, here is our best shot at assessing the field:

1. Bobby Jindal: Since taking McCain up on an invite out to his Sedona ranch, the uber-young (36) governor of Louisiana has reportedly been at or near the top of virtually everyone's list. The pros? He's half McCain's age, is a minority, has executive experience, has a reformist streak and is a complete Washington outsider. The biggest con? He's maybe too young -- 9 years younger than the Changemaker.

2. Condoleeza Rice: Condi is pro-choice (concededly, an enormous hurdle), and her nomination will ensure that Obama and the Dems will scream "George Bush 44" from here 'til November. However, McCain is likely tied to the surge in Iraq no matter who he chooses as his VP, and given Condi's broad appeal across racial, gender and even party lines, McCain and Condi on the same ticket is perhaps the worst-case scenario for Dems. Naming Condi as veep would create a ticket with dynamic cross-party appeal and could potentially turn the electoral map on its head.

3. Tim Pawlenty: Young (47), popular, good-looking governor from a swing state (Minnesota) who has stuck by McCain through thick and thin. Especially given that McCain deeply values loyalty, there isn't a whole lot to dislike.

4. Charlie Crist: Not much to say about the governor of Florida that hasn't been said already. Some on the right aren't sold on Crist's conservative credentials, but he'd sew up his home state, a clear necessity.

5. Joe Lieberman: At the end of the day, this is McCain's decision, and there are few people he likes or respects more than his longtime Senate colleague. And adding Lieberman would make a powerful statement about the kind of administration McCain intends to run. The focus necessarily would shift toward Obama and force the Pope of Hope to answer his laughably empty platitudes about bipartisanship and new politics. However, the blowback from conservatives would be enormous -- putting aside national security issues, Lieberman is fundamentally at odds with just about every plank in the domestic Republican platform.

6. Tom Ridge: Jindal, Rice and Lieberman are intriguing, high-risk, high-reward choices, while Crist, Pawlenty and Romney are simply safe bets with more upside than down. Ridge falls into the former category. He strengthens McCain's main appeal (national security), yet, like Condi, is pro-choice, a potentially lethal issue for McCain to dance around, given the mistrust many conservatives still have of his willingness to reach across the aisle with frequency. However, Ridge is deeply respected across party lines and puts Pennsylvania in play -- and if Obama coughs up the Keystone State, it will be extraordinarily hard for him to win.

7. Michael Bloomberg: Another risky, intriguing pick. On one hand, Bloomberg is stridently opposed to the Senior Senator's Iraq strategy, has been courted to some degree by Obama, and noisily left the GOP several years ago. A Bloomberg choice would be greeted with howls from many conservatives. On the other hand, however, he could (don't laugh) potentially put New York in play and likely tip New Jersey -- a huge electoral haul -- McCain's way; like Romney, address McCain's weakness on economic issues; and perhaps most importantly, he and McCain have a genuine affinity for one another.

8. Mitt Romney: In many ways, the anti-Lieberman. Conservatives would largely applaud (despite his utterly transparent phoniness), he would toe the GOP line on most issues, he addresses McCain's biggest weakness (economic issues), and McCain genuinely hates his guts. If this is McCain's choice (which it is), he won't pick a guy he can't stand.

Other notables: former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman, former Ohio congressman and Bush OMB director Rob Portman, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford and Colorado Gov. Bill Owens.

12 June 2008

Where She Goes From Here

As a card-carrying member of the aforementioned fan club, I’m hoping that Senator Clinton works her heart out for Senator Obama’s campaign. She’s been a relentless campaigner for others in the past and similar efforts on behalf of the party this year would be tremendously gracious. While she certainly feels an obligation to the party itself, her role as a national figure depends on supporting Senator Obama. If he loses, as she reportedly believes he will, then she has nothing to lose. The more she champions his candidacy, the less anyone will be able to blame an Obama defeat on her.

Regardless of whether she ever runs for the presidency again, her status as a public figure is stronger after the primaries than they were beforehand. The same cannot be said for Senator Obama. Amidst defeat and constant ridicule, Senator Clinton was brought down a notch. The images of Lady Macbeth were replaced with gritty and resilient fighters like Rocky and Clint Eastwood. Compared to Senator Obama and other candidates, she is now viewed as more moderate, more centrist, and more experienced. Most importantly, she has gone beyond Bill. Many people, myself included, prefer her over President Clinton.

What does this mean? Who knows. But such a transformation, reemergence, or whatever one may call it, in a mere matter of months, is certainly significant. This increased stature for Senator Clinton is matched by increased support from segments of the population who many never dreamed would support her. Blue collar workers, Hispanics, older voters, women, and other jujitsu demographic groups were all part of her base during the campaign. Although support among these groups may have been initially soft, it became cemented by June. Clinton supporters were deemed racist, old-fashioned, and nearly everything else. Throw in an unashamedly taunting media, the contention that she won the popular vote, and Senator Obama’s efforts to ensure that neither Florida nor Michigan would have a re-vote, and you have a group of voters who feel they got a raw deal in their party’s primaries.

This could all be sour grapes, but keep in mind that Governor Reagan’s followers in 1976 remembered their guy in 1980. Other candidates from Roosevelt to Nixon to John McCain today all spent their own time in the political wilderness. The key to success was always whether their supporters were still there when they reemerged. Adversity can be a unifying thing and the 18 million Clinton voters certainly didn’t have a smooth ride through the last several months. If even a fraction of them remain after this year then she could have a substantial following waiting in the future.

All this will likely be moot if Senator Obama wins the presidency, so her best bet is to go back to the Senate and do what she does best. She should pass legislation, attend to constituent concerns, and compromise with those across the aisle. In short, continue to prefer actions over words. There will be more attention now and it will stand in stark contrast to the sloganeering of her opponents. Still, if the media continue to declare the current race over, Senator McCain could pull a New Hampshire, a Super Tuesday, a Pennsylvania or any of the other elections where Senator Clinton was pronounced dead by the punditry.

In that case, the voters in 2012 may want to reincarnate her one more time.

07 June 2008

Where does HRC go from here?

Six months ago, it seemed almost unthinkable. But Sen. Clinton finally has bowed to the pressure, and has chosen to step off, allowing the Dems to align behind Sen. Obama.

This is genuinely surprising for a couple of reasons, but chief among them (with all due respect to The Chairman, a card-carrying member of the HRC Fanclub) is how sure I was that the Clintons' self-interest couldn't possibly be overcome by their sense of loyalty to their party. I was almost certain that, prodded by the likes of James Carville, Ed Rendell and Bill himself, HRC would take the fight to the convention floor in Denver in August. I expected finger-pointing, bribes, rampant corruption and egregious misconduct by both sides as the party destroyed itself. But to her credit, HRC read the writing on the wall, realized that scrapping much longer might damage the party, stepped aside, and as a result, the Dems likely will be a mostly unified party come convention time.

This isn't to say the HRC watch is over. Her main objective clearly is to win the presidency, and as she turns 60 in October, likely has two more election cycles to do it. However, it's clear that an Obama victory in November makes a 2012 run unlikely, as it is extraordinarily difficult to unseat even an unpopular incumbent (see: Kerry-Heinz, John).

As a result, HRC faces an interesting dilemma: on one hand, she could throw her support behind Obama, raise money for and make appearances with him, and encourage her supporters (many of whom fall under the "Reagan Democrat" banner and who have a deep distrust of the High Priest of Hyde Park) to pull the lever for him in November. If she does this and helps heal the party's wounds, Obama would be the 44th president. Second, however, HRC could concede the nomination and quietly slip away, letting the Changemaker go it alone as he seeks to unify what currently is a party fractured in a number of different ways.

By conceding now, HRC has minimized the potentially irreparable damage that the party might have sustained as a result of a protracted fight that spilled over into Denver in August. She also minimizes the backlash that has been brewing against she and Bill that could have enormous repercussions if the contest became any more nasty. In a few weeks, the latte liberals backing the Pope of Hope will have forgotten the nastiness of the contest.

As a McCain backer, I'm disappointed that HRC stepped aside, as I hoped she and Bill would be out for blood. But I am equally intrigued to see what kind of role she plays from now 'til November. Is her self-interest in getting back to the White House stronger than her loyalty to the Democratic Party?

I think so. That's why I think the McCain/Obama fight will be much closer than what it should be.