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On McCain's Negative Tone

John McCain's campaign is in serious danger right now. Obama is now on offense in reliably Republican states like Indiana and North Carolina, and he is leading in the purple states of Colorado and Virginia. McCain's path to 270 requires him to run the table as far as the battleground states are concerned, but he is trailing in several of them and the polls are getting precariously out of hand. This is a result of the natural advantages Democrats have this year (e.g. an unpopular Republican president, better fundraising, and increased voter registration). But now the economy, a Democratic issue, has dominated center stage and McCain is not sure how to deal with this.

In light of this, McCain has tried to change the subject from the economy to Barack Obama's identity and character. He is invoking Obama's past associations with William Ayers and is suggesting that voters can't trust Obama or his judgment. If voters can't trust Obama, then perhaps, McCain is hoping, they can't trust his presidential stewardship.

McCain has successfully changed the subject before by changing the discussion from Obama's European trip to a talk about celebrities and from coverage of Obama's successful convention to coverage of Sarah Palin. However, may have gone to the well one too many times because changing a subject that is increasingly difficult to ignore is politically foolish.

The main issue this election is the economy. As long as this is an election about people's pocketbooks, paychecks, and portfolios, McCain will lose unless he runs on the same issues. Right now, McCain is trying to change an election about the economy to an election about Obama's identity. There are several problems with this strategy, however:

1. Enough voters are comfortable enough with Obama's identity to make McCain's attacks have less resonance. The economy trumps identity right now. Reigniting culture wars might have worked in 2004, but it is a much harder sell this year because voters are genuinely worried about their finances.

2. McCain is giving free license for others to attack him on his own identity and associations. Sarah Palin's husband was once a member of the Alaska Independence Party, which supported seceding from the Union. And McCain himself has sought the endorsements of Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell, conservative icons who have blamed the September 11th attacks on homosexuals, feminists, and abortions rights supporters.

3a. The tone of the attacks on Obama's character by McCain and running mate Sarah Palin are venturing into dangerous territory that threatens to prompt serious security concerns. Some conservatives have even called Palin cancerous. If Palin in particular is seen as too negative and McCain doesn't rein her or the fans at his rallies in a bit, McCain will lose the election and Palin's political ambitions may be irrevocably lost.

3b. The Obama campaign is beginning to challenge McCain on these loaded attacks. If Obama challenges McCain to say these attacks to his face in the final debate, it could make McCain look like a coward because there's no way McCain will hint that Obama may be a terrorist to his face. And McCain would lose the talking point too.

4. The more McCain wants to talk about Obama's identity while voters want to talk about the economy, the more it makes McCain appear out of touch. Pay attention to polls that ask which candidate cares more about people like you.

5. It opens McCain up to questions about why he didn't bring these concerns up earlier. Republicans had the chance to invoke the character issue at their convention and in the weeks that followed. McCain also had the chance to invoke these concerns at the presidential debates, but passed. Doing this now may lead to accusations of political opportunism.

6. McCain cannot win this election with conservatives and Republicans alone. Whipping up conservatives with this red meat may only push away moderates and independents who respond unfavorably to negativity.

7. Republicans further down the ballot may be reluctant to hitch their campaigns to McCain's ship. It's already a tough enough year for Republicans. Not being able to run with your own party's presidential nominee or the current president may leave a lot of incumbent Republican senators and congressmen feeling lonely and vulnerable. This is leading to stories about the end of the conservative era and the rise of a new Democratic-friendly one. This only further saps the motivation from Republican voters and pumps up Democrats.

Obama was clearly underperforming his party earlier this campaign season. A generic Democrat was consistently beating a generic Republican by more than Obama was beating McCain in most polls. McCain's competitiveness and/or Obama's weakness was attributable to several factors:

1. McCain had the benefit of being able to blunt Obama's message of bipartisanship because, to his credit, McCain has challenged Republicans on campaign finance reform, immigration, and the Bush tax cuts.

2. McCain had the benefit of wrapping up the Republican nomination relatively quickly, thus allowing him to consolidate his base and begin his national campaign. Meanwhile, Obama was locked in a bitter primary fight with Hillary Clinton and unable to present his case before the national electorate. So Obama was being hammered by Clinton and McCain at the same time.

3. Obama was a relatively unknown and untested candidate. Despite his electoral victories, fundraising, and positive buzz, his Achilles' heel was his relatively thin resume. This weakness opened Obama up to two types of attacks: 1) reservations about his inexperience, and 2) questions about his true identity. McCain is clearly trying to attack Obama on the second point now.

The problem for McCain is that now Obama is closing the gap between him (Obama) and the generic Democrat. Clinton is out of the race, her supporters are mostly in his camp, Obama has come across as competent and presidential in both presidential debates so far, and voters are becoming increasingly comfortable with Obama--including his resume and his identity. Some voters may be supporting Obama because the economy has compelled them to vote for a Democrat. However, at the very least, this suggests that party affiliation matters more than character or identity. In other words, Obama's party is more important than Obama's identity and resume.

For McCain to win this election or at least make it more competitive, he needs a new, detailed economic proposal that is of his own creation. This would tie the economy in with "the maverick" and help him reclaim the leadership mantle he has partially ceded to his Democratic rival. Obama has not presented a specific economic proposal of his own, as he hasn't had the political necessity to do so. Running against President Bush, Republicans, and Wall Street is politically sufficient for now. He's just riding the wave. McCain has the opportunity to pull the rug out from under Obama, but as long as he and his campaign keep talking about guilt by association and "Hussein," he will cement his political destiny as ending on the floor of the United States Senate, rather than the Oval Office.

5 comment(s):

Brett said...

The problem is, as I mentioned in my last post here, that McCain has never really seemed to have a serious independent vision of America that was truly his. He's had some independent views and bills every now and then, but never a distinct vision of his own. Imagining him coming up with a strikingly new economic plan that would leave Obama in the dust is highly unlikely.

DB said...

The McCain of the past would be winning right now. It is as simple as that. He went from running a maverick campaign to a Hannity/Limbaugh campaign. Think about it. Limbaugh has pushed Palin for months now after tearing into McCain and McCain appeased him. Hannity has pushed the Ayers thing nightly for months now and McCain just now picked up on it. Evey interview I see of McCain and Palin lately seems to be done by Hannity. How does this appeal to the middle?

S.W. Anderson said...

"McCain cannot win this election with conservatives and Republicans alone. Whipping up conservatives with this red meat may only push away moderates and independents who respond unfavorably to negativity."

McCain at this point is like a hard-core alcoholic who in rare dry moments realizes booze is pickling his brain, turning his liver into flagstone and destroying every aspect of his life. He might even shake his head in disgust as he pours himself another drink. But ultimately, he's hooked and can't help himself.

well60 said...


If you were real Christians, as you’re saying out loud, you should know that you couldn’t do to others what you do not like them to do for you. Remember that the lack of love to your neighbor means that you’re his murderer. If you do not kill him directly, you may indirectly inspire others to kill him, because of your attitude, declarations and speeches full of hate against him.

When you slam others through your insults, hate, slander and contempt, you must to know that those people have a legal right to respond to your attacks. For every action there is a corresponding reaction more powerful than the action.

Remember this: "People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones". This means that you shouldn’t criticize Obama when you are equally, or more than that, at fault in number of subjects. Your records aren’t clean. You’ve many hidden wrong things that can be against you too. Others can also use vengeance against you.

Why? Because:
1. There is always a return lift.
2. Evil always pursues his author.
3. Who sows wind get storm as harvest.

So, in the McCain campaign, you are sowing a bad wind and you gonna get just a nasty storm. You’re losing the confidence from the American people because you refuse to offer them the real answer to their problems.

Let me say it loud. McCain / Palin, like Adolf Hitler of Germany, you are considering yourself (white people), by cunning and devious speeches, as being "superior", beneficiary "having right to be" and being exclusive qualified for the presidency job. You’re wrong by adopting the philosophy of a wrong password which had generated anger, negation of humanity of other peoples and hate in the U.S and in the world.

You’re saying "COUNTRY FIRST". Well. For that, you need to have this as your new political philosophy: There is in this country, neither White nor Black, nor Arabic, nor Hispanic neither Asian nor Native American, but the AMERICAN PEOPLE. We are one people. That’s the real meaning of COUNRTY FIRST.

You need to say that to your Republican friends, and to other Americans who have not had, like you, the chance to go to school to understand that the United States of America mean unity in diversity. Speaking in a wrong way is to become the enemy number one of the American people and people around the world, who know the bad side of the history of this great country.

Otherwise, you will be held truly for responsible if something wrong happens to the Senator Obama. You went too far. For the bad seed that you will not stop planting in the hearts of the American people, you’ve really choose your own punishment and your disqualification from these elections.

Don’t be jealous of the Obama success. He’s smart, an intelligent guy from a Political Science’s University and strong lawyer from Harvard. He’s ready to lead his lovely country. Obama isn’t an Arab. He isn’t a Muslim. He isn’t a terrorist. He’s an American dreamer like me and you! That’s it! Tell that true to people. Give answers to the issues of the American people. It could be nice for you!

DB said...

Well60: If you were real Christians

Oddly enough, this is how Christian conservatives start all of their arguments. You are arguing on the premise that conservatives and liberals worship the same Christian god, which is only the case on paper and not in reality.

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