Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Sunday, July 06, 2008

How to Defeat John McCain

If the election were held today, Barack Obama would win, but the election will not be held for four more months. So the problem for the Obama campaign is to avoid defeat in the next four months. This election is largely about Obama. As Mark Shields said well on the Newshour last week, the public basically knows who John McCain is and knows that they don't like Bush or his Republicans in power. What they don't know yet is whether Obama is an acceptable alternative. Obama remains definable. So what does Obama have to do?

1. Define himself as a regular politician. Return to Center (address unknown...). Obama is doing a good job of this right now. Obama needs to assure people that he is normal, even at the expense of being a Phenomenon, as he has been to date. To some extent, the view that he is an "ordinary politician" is not so awful. Sure, that dampens enthusiasm for him on the left, but the left is still voting for him, and so are the African-Americans. Assuring Middle America that he is not a revolutionary is important. Hence the Iraq business of late. He is saying that he won't be pigeonholed by McCain as someone who is "too rigid" in his views with a plan to end the war that bears no relation to facts on the ground. He is trying to show that he's realistic. This is a good thing.

2. Refine McCain. McCain is already defined in the public's mind, so much so that attempts to redefine his character are dismissed by pundits offhand. Calling him a right wing nut isn't going to work (even though it's true). But you can refine the public's views.
a) The public views him as angry and too quick to anger, even reckless. Go with that. Exaggerate that and accentuate that.
b) The public views him as being a man who sticks with his convictions, even a big stubborn: go with that, make him seem more stubborn, even obsessive over things like Iraq.
c) Conservatives view him as a bit of a turncoat. Go with that... talk about his changing positions. Point out that he undercut Bush, then embraced some of his views on the way out. The word "betray" can be used to great effect with McCain to dampen enthusiasm by conservatives.
d) McCain says he's better at foreign policy. Go with that. Show that he's too interested in foreign policy to be good at fixing the economy, which is our real problem.
e) McCain is old. He talks about the past all the time, about Vietnam, about his father and grandfather. Go with that. Wonder aloud about a Cold War mentality.

3. Undercut McCain's pedestal. Wes Clark took a great shot at McCain, making it possible to begin discussing in public whether McCain really can't be questioned as to his ability to be C-in-C. Obama can't do that, but he can profit from it. Emphasize McCain's flip-flops. This undercuts the view that he is a man of convictions. As you emphasize that he's more stubborn than principled, point out that he's also not that principled. See the comments above about betrayal.

4. Challenge McCain for specific proposals to improve economic conditions. McCain is a conservative - he doesn't really believe in specific proposals to help the economy. So he can't do a good job. The more he proposes, the less conservative he seems.

5. Make sure everyone in America knows that McCain opposed Bush's tax cuts too in the beginning. Say that he also opposes Bush's tax cuts without adding that he has a different view now. Make him explain that, if he dares.

So yes, it's a very negative campaign.

But that's okay. It's got to be that way, because McCain's only hope for winning is super-negative, to convince the public that Obama is Too Much of a Risk for them. Fight fire with fire. Make people realize that McCain is the risk; Obama is safe. That is the way to victory in four months' time.


pastormike said...

McCain needs Huckabee if he is going to win. Huckabee would help McCain in the south which he is going to lose if he takes any other VP. Barr is going to destroy any chances. Huckabee is loved in the south. about Clarks commments. I do not agree with author about Clarks comments,I thought Clark was dead on. Obama should not of thrown him under the bus, but instead should embrace him. I also think Wesley Clark has been treated very unfairly by the press for his comments. I like Clark, Thank you General Clark for speaking the truth. Here is why Obama needs Clark

As far as McCain and his Veep goes. I like Huckabee for the McCain Veep. He is going to need help in the south.

The Libertarians should run Barr with Paul instead of Barr with Root.

I love the vp discussion blogs, I get all my veep info and rumors at

Raised By Republicans said...

Oh Please please please put Huckabee and McCain on the same ticket! The Democrats will crush those two wackos!

I have talked to some people who were close enough to Huckabee's family to have been invited to events in the Governor's mansion in Little Rock. They said Huckabee has several rather nasty skeletons in the closet including one sone who romed the neighborhood killing stray cats for kicks and another son who embezzeled money from the Young Republicans of Arkansas to pay for a new video game set up or something.

Huckabee himself is like the right wing, white redneck equivolent of Reverend Wright - note: he's not the friend of an out of control radical preacher, he WAS that out of control radical preacher.

Putting Huckabee on the ticket would conceed the center to Obama.

I would love to see it happen too because I firmly believe that the religious right faction of the Republican must be handed a crushing, humiliating defeat this year. They must beaten and have their snouts rubbed in the mess. Why does it have to be rough? Because they need to be so badly beaten and BE SEEN TO BE SO BADLY BEATEN that they will be forced to give up their control of the Republican party. If McCain loses without their support, they'll use that as a reason to reestablish their control of the GOP.

But the religious right (Huckabee's fans) are fundamentally anti-democratic and their continued control over one of the two major parties is bad for the country.

Bob said...

Regarding point 1. "Return to Center (address unknown...)": I think this is a dicier proposition than LTG asserts, although he does coyly nod to the hollowness of the exercise.

First, compared to the other four points, it's a pretty radical repositioning for someone whose problem is to "avoid defeat in the next four months." Obama's ahead now, with his Phenomenon standing -- why mess with that in order to gain "Middle America" votes he doesn't, at the moment, need?

Second, it's a tradeoff: "dampening enthusiasm" on the Left translates to losing voter turnout. Obama's gotten a lot of support from people who previously were ignoring politics, who could easily go back to ignoring it again.

This potential loss in votes is supposed to be more than offset by the gains from the nebulous Center, but that depends on people being more influenced on his Centrism than by his "flip-flopping". I'm skeptical of the extent to which votes can be gained from a media label like "centrist".

Lastly, second only to "personality", the centrist image is controlled by the media filter, rather than the campaign message. Here's how Glenn Greenwald puts it:
`The views of the establishment pundit class are automatically labeled "the Center" even when they're rejected by majorities of "the American people." By contrast, views that are actually held by majorities but which the pundit class dislikes are demonized as those of "the Left." Thus, they argue, political candidates, in order to win elections, must embrace the views of the establishment and reject the view of most Americans. That's how a candidate "moves to the Center.'

You don't have to be as cynical as Greenwald to think that "moving to the center" is a media-determined label. Compared to the other suggestions, Obama's campaign has less control over how this is spun, even if being awarded the centrist label would gain voters.

Dr. Strangelove said...

I agree with Bob, I think #1 is not the smartest move. Obama's strength is that he is new, fresh, and different. That magic is still working well for him. If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

I agree very much with overall thrust of #2, and I would go even further: I think Obama can actually define McCain's image for many people. While political observers like us have been watching McCain for quite a while, most folks are only just starting to hear about him. We all have been inundated with stories about Obama, while McCain remains that faceless standard Republican to most people.

The reason people are not sure what to think about Obama is not because they have heard too little, but because they have heard too much. They are confused as to where Obama is from (Chicago? Hawaii? Indonesia? Kenya?). They are confused about his religion (Muslim? Radical Black Protestant? Some kind of Evangelical?). They also are not entirely sure what he means by "change" except for leaving Iraq. Obama is wonderfully outside most stereotypes, and his personal story is very compelling. As I said up front, he needs to continue to present himself as new, fresh, and different.

Meanwhile, the idea is to paint McCain as just that same old white guy who wants to keep on doing what they've been doing for the past eight years. He is also a Vietnam vet, a POW, which is probably why he seems so angry most of the time. (And the conservatives know him better and don't like him, which means he really has little to recommend him.)

Obama's task is simple and he is already doing it. Obama should continue to run those great biopic ads he has been running. He should continue to give speeches on faith, hope, and patriotism--issues Democrats rarely dwell on--and he should continue to take the fight to the red states, going all over and showing he is a new breed of Democrat. The "open convention" in Denver is an excellent example. (Meanwhile Obama never says the word "McCain" without also saying "Bush," "Republican," and "war" in the same sentence.)

I am leery of #3. Rather than try to attack a war hero, it would be better to contrast past with present. Distinguish the younger McCain from the McCain we see today. Praise his former service and his glory days, while subtly indicating that his best days are behind him. Once he was a hero, perhaps, and we all thank him for that--but sadly now he is just an old, tired, angry man who is stuck in the past, out of touch with reality.

I think #4 is right on target. Challenging the right wing for proposals is always good because they are usually against proposing anything. Asking McCain for specific proposals on health care is great because he has nothing to offer; asking him for proposals on immigration and global warming are great because the right-wing will hate his answers, while the left-wing will see only a pale, watered-down "Obama-lite" version of change.

The Democrats should continue to paint Republicans as out-of-touch obstructionists who want to do nothing except continue the bad war. The message is this: Obama says "Yes, we can!" and McCain says, "No, we won't."

The Law Talking Guy said...

Winning an election by energizing the left was Clinton's strategy, but not Obama's. So I think he does need to be seen as a more centrist figure than he was during the late primaries. Obama needs to seem extraordinary to his supporters, but more ordinary to independent, non-committed voters who want a reassuring candidate, not a revolutionary. I think he can do just that easily. I think that's exactly what he did in Iowa in January.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Who said anything about energizing the left? I thought we were discussing how Obama could appeal to moderates and independent voters. Bob's take on "centrist" is right and Obama's successful "new, fresh, different" approach is the way to continue to appeal to disaffected moderates and independents.