The Wrong Target
by Jonathan Singer, Thu Jul 31, 2008 at 03:26:22 AM EDT
Watching John McCain's increasingly flailing and negative ad campaigns in recent weeks, it's been difficult for many -- myself included -- to figure out exactly what he and his advisors have been trying to get at. Looking across the ads, there has been no unifying message save for the fact that Barack Obama is bad (and even that doesn't always shine through -- calling him popular and running footage of people cheering for him doesn't necessarily make for the strongest attack), and there hasn't been much of anything positive said about McCain's own efforts or platform.
But the more I have thought about it, the more it seems to me that McCain's efforts do have a unifying quality to them, even if a misguided one: Influencing those inside the Beltway. These ads aren't directed at Missouri or Ohio or Pennsylvania, or voters in the other key states who will help decide the outcome of this election. Instead, they are directed at the political establishment, and the establishment media in DC, in particular.
Don't get me wrong, every successful campaign has a strategy for handling the media and spends a significant amount of time, effort and even money to try to cajole the media to relay the message the campaign wants to get out. But I don't think I have ever seen a campaign so exclusively focused on the media. It is as if the McCain campaign is being run not to win over the hearts and minds of the American public but rather to affect the views of the talking heads on MSNBC, CNN and Fox News. As one high-level Republican Party operative said to Chris Cillizza about the latest McCain ad, which quizzically and quixotically tries to turn Obama into Paris Hilton, "It seems like they are talking to the press pack, not voters."
Part of this likely stems from the fact that McCain views, or at least viewed, the media as his base. But I think it goes beyond that. The McCain campaign is a creature of Washington, DC. It is chock full of lobbyists. McCain himself has been in Washington for more than 25 years. And even the fact that the campaign is physically located in DC has an effect. Markos has written at length on this issue, and I'd recommend you taking a look at what he has to say in full, but in short, running a DC-based campaign leads to a bubble mentality, less loyal staffers, and a reinforcement of the notion that a candidate is too DC at a time when Washington is less popular than it has been for years and even decades.
In short, the McCain campaign increasingly looks like a one by the Beltway, in the Beltway, of the Beltway, and for the Beltway -- and I can't see how that makes it more likely that he is going to be able to connect with the average voter.
Update [2008-7-31 7:33:56 by Jonathan Singer]: Color The Politico impressed. The strategy must really be working now...