Monday, July 28, 2008

John McCain's blundering campaign in crisis

We're at a crisis point in this year's presidential election and the next few days could be critical. Barack Obama has just returned from an extremely successful foreign tour. McCain's own blunders helped to ensure Obama's trip would be successful. McCain and his campaign taunted Obama with his lack of foreign travel, effectively providing Obama with free advertising for an event that would play to his strengths.

Obama and his campaign team took McCain's challenge and ran with it. They planned a trip that would play to Obama's strengths. Barack Obama may be the single most talented political orator alive today, and this trip would provide Obama several opportunities to deliver the kind of set-piece addresses he excels at. Obama's campaign also did something important that McCain had failed to do when he traveled abroad: Obama invited the press and offered interviews to the network anchors. The press responded with alacrity; how could they not agree to cover the trip after McCain's campaign had built the stakes up so high?

Barack Obama proceeded to deliver a string of powerful addresses matched with equally powerful images. And John McCain's campaign ensured that every camera in the Western world was pointed at Obama when it happened. McCain responded with a flurry of whining and negative campaigning. It mattered not at all, as Obama finished his trip and returned home to a significant bounce in the polls. One poll now has Obama up by as much as 12 points.

In response, the McCain campaign appears to have decided to go massively negative. McCain has already been called out by the editorial board of the Washington Post for his excessively negative campaign. McCain did not take the hint, and apparently has committed himself to a much more negative "kitchen sink" strategy. In today's Washington Post, several Republican commentators criticize McCain for these negative tactics:
The moves puzzled some GOP strategists, who said McCain would be better off touting a more positive message, and the senator from Arizona drew a strong rebuke from a longtime ally, Sen. Chuck Hagel(R-Neb.), who traveled with Obama last week to Afghanistan and Iraq as part of a congressional delegation.

"I think John is treading on some very thin ground here when he impugns motives and when we start to get into 'You're less patriotic than me. I'm more patriotic,' " Hagel said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "I admire and respect John McCain very much. . . . John's better than that."[1]

McCain is pulling out all the stops, accusing Obama of neglecting the troops, even though it has already been reported in the mainstream media that Obama's visit to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center was blocked by the Bush Pentagon. This attempt to work the referees with the Bush administration's connivance simply underlines McCain's close ties to Bush. Many Republicans are uncomfortable with McCain's tactics:
One GOP strategist with close ties to McCain's campaign said the new line
of attack reflected the operation's "schizophrenic" nature. He said that
tendency was also on display last week, as McCain spoke at length about media
coverage of Obama rather than sticking with his plan to focus on the economy.

"They couldn't help themselves," the strategist said, adding that the
ad over the hospital visit is "churlish and unlike McCain, and hardly will
resonate with the swing voters who are going to decide this election." The
strategist continued: "They're doing it because the candidate, and the campaign,
is not happy with where they are and they're lashing out."[2]
So now we have come to what may be the defining crisis in this election, a fork in the road, so to speak. Obama's foreign trip has given his campaign a dramatic boost. He met the troops and they loved him. Foreign leaders all but endorsed him as the superior choice. Obama delivered brilliants speeches and collected powerful images to help his campaign, all while John McCain was ignored for the better part of a week.

John McCain has responded with a "Hail Mary" negative "kitchen sink" strategy. He is going massively negative way too early in the campaign in an effort to regain the initiative. Will McCain's gamble pay off? Or will it result in what I have come to call "the Republican death spiral"? Will McCain's campaign burn itself out with an ever escalating series of mindlessly negative false attacks, allowing Obama to take the high road to victory?

I think this week could be a critical tipping point in the race, so stay tuned.

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