Thursday, 22 May 2008

How Tough Is McCain?

When the Republican primary came to an end, I felt at the time that in a sea of potential candidates all of whom seemed, frankly, creepy and/or nutcases, the Republicans had probably nominated the least bad of the lot.

John McCain was never perfect, but he's always had a bizarrely good relationship with the press, who always gravitate to those who cast themselves (accurately or not) as influential mavericks. So in the back of my mind I think I assumed McCain would be a pretty good campaigner and a serious threat to the Democrats, even in this climate that is so favorable to dems right now.

But since then I've had a chance for the first time to really watch McCain, how he operates, how he speaks, how he positions himself. And I have to say, though I still suspect they nominated the best candidate available to them, I'm really thinking - "Really? This is the best you can do?"

I mean, don't get me wrong - this will most likely be a close and tough election if only because, nowadays, they all are. But John McCain is a terrible, terrible public speaker. I'm sure he'll get better, but right now he's not good.

He's better in the open, town hall forums that he prefers - and that's why his campaign schedules so many of these. But in this format he has a tendency to go off message in unhelpful ways (witness the 10,000 years in Iraq controversy, and who could ever forget "Bomb bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran").

Then you look at the way he organises his campaign and they way he gets out his message in things like advertising.

Take a look at this ad, for example:

I mean, why are we doing Dead Poet's Society? Truthfully, the main message I take away from this is that McCain went to a fancy private school and where he ratted out his classmates a lot. He must have been real popular.

I mean, I get the honor code but what point is he trying to make here? Is he trying to hint that he would "tell on" the Bush administration's lawbreaking? Because if so, he's lying because he hasn't. Is he trying to warm the hearts of the base with old fashioned feelings? Because if so, I think he's more likely to annoy them with the reminder of their belief that he hasn't been a loyal footsoldier for Their Boy.

And then, of course, you have the latest series of scandals relating to lobbyists who work for his campaign. Politics and lobbying has long overlapped in uncomfortable ways, but this goes beyond that - I'm mean, he had at least two staff members who did lobbying and PR for the regime in BURMA. This is a country that would rather allow tens of thousands of its citizens to die than accept any help from the outside world. These people are, and believe me I use this word rarely, evil.

So McCain's whole campaign theme is supposed to be about his maverick, independant, honorableness. But then he hand picks a guy to run the RNC convention who has also worked for one of the most oppressive regimes on earth. Not exactly message discipline, right?

This Politico piece sums up some of McCain's weaknesses very well - but don't worry, looks like there will be plenty more where that came from.

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