Who is in charge of McCain Campaign?

>> Monday, September 8, 2008

I submit that it is not John McCain. Political campaigns are an interesting operation in that they are about the election of one person. They are built around the marketing of that one person. Politicians are said to have "brands" carefully built up over the years. It would naturally lead to the thought that the politician is the one who makes the final decision because, in the end, it is his brand. McCain may sign off on the stuff that goes on in the campaign but i have a hard time believing he is actually "running things". The person actually running things and making the decisions is Steve Schmidt.

The first thing to do is to explain who Schmidt is. The NYT recently did an article on him and here is their description,

Steve Schmidt, a senior adviser to Mr. McCain who worked on President Bush’s campaign in 2004...

His stamp was reflected in the sharp tone of the scathing prime-time speeches, all of which Mr. Schmidt reviewed and approved, and some of which were criticized as stretching the truth. It was evident in the campaign’s fierce attacks on news organizations as they examined the extent to which Mr. McCain had vetted Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska when he chose her as his running mate, and reported on the pregnancy of her teenage daughter (the disclosures were released just as Hurricane Gustav was hitting the Gulf Coast, in a gambit of news management that is one hallmark of Mr. Schmidt’s style).

And it could be seen in the ubiquitous slogan “Country First” — as in, Mr. McCain puts it there, Mr. Obama does not.

In many ways the way the times talks about Schmidt is reminiscent of Dem James Carville from the Clinton's war room of 1992. He is a Rove disciple and so naturally has adopted Roves playbook. In fact he would not have the job if he did not.

There is evidence that McCain is just going along with the flow as dictated by Schmidt. Here is an important quote in the times piece,

Mr. Rove said Mr. Schmidt’s increased authority — which came about after what amounted to a coup by Mr. Schmidt and other McCain aides with ties to the 2004 campaign, that gave him equal status with the campaign manager, Rick Davis — has been the best thing to have happened to Mr. McCain.

The times makes numerous references to the discipline that Schmidt has impressed on not only the candidate but the campaign as a whole. It would be impossible for him to do this without a very high level of authority. Note also that imposing discipline on a candidate implies that the candidate does what you tell them to do. This makes sense because McCain hired these people to get him the win. Winning is the ultimate goal of the campaign and these are the people who got bush elected, they are the winners of the GOP. So consider the recent debate over the VP pick. By many reports McCain wanted Lieberman or Ridge. He was told though that he could not have them. So instead the pick was Gov Palin? Someone McCain had only met a couple of times?

The evidence of Schmidts finger prints is all over the pick. It is a major political decision. With his high level of authority over the strategy of the campaign how would he not be involved with choosing who gets on the list. He is in charge of picking what is going to be an important narrative and what is not. Palin was a political pick made to fit a certain set of narratives that Schmidt would have had to designate. That is how she made the list.

People have talked about the poor vetting process involved. It does not really matter to someone like Schmidt whether the narrative is true or not. He comes from the Rove-Atwater school of slash burn and divide politics. Palin could fit the narrative he wanted. She energized the base playing perfectly into the Rove base turnout election style.

We know that McCain can be pushed by his advisers and people who run his campaign to do what they think the politically expedient thing is. The Confederate flag debate of 2000 is a perfect example.

McCAIN: The worst advice that I've given to myself was when the Confederate flag was flying over the state Capitol in South Carolina and I decided that I would say that's not an issue that I should be involved in, that it's -- should be decided by the people of the state of South Carolina. I knew that it was a symbol that was very offensive to many people, and afterwards I went back and apologized. But it was, needless to say, by saying that I wouldn't have anything to do with an issue like that was an act of cowardice.

COURIC: Did someone advise you, senator, to do that?

McCAIN: Yes. Yes, but that doesn't mean I should have taken it. I should have known better.

McCain is more than willing to subvert his principles when it counts. McCain was also asked Sunday when Governor Palin would be talking to the press,

SCHIEFFER: When will you let her out to campaign on her own? When will she start having news conferences? When will she start doing interviews?

Sen. McCAIN: Well, as you know, we just finished the convention, but within the next few days. And I'm strongly recommending that she come on FACE THE NATION with Bob Schieffer, and that will be the first of her 65 appearances.

SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, we'll make a place for her here.

Sen. McCAIN: Thank you.

We now know that Palin will actually be making her first appearance with abc's Charlie Gibson. Now, this is not a particularly important mix up. What it does show though is that McCain is not making those types of decisions. Political decisions about the message, how to spread it, what it should be, are not his call. He just simply executes what he is given.

You hire political strategists for a reason. They help you to craft a message and get it out there. they help you get elected. However, they should just help. In the case of the McCain campaign McCain has ceded so much control that he is not exerting anything of his own in the campaign. You here people say they dont recognize the person that McCain is right now, that because as Candidate McCain he is not in charge of his own campaign.


O-le,O-le, O-le, O-le! O-le, O-le!

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