The Wrong Target

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...

Tags: Ad Watch, advertising, John McCain, White House 2008 (all tags)

Comments

17 Comments

Re: The Wrong Target

That politico article is at least the second article I have seen expressing admiration for this McCain strategy.  There's another one in NewsWeek.  At the same time, I see McCain's numbers on intrade.com have shot up almost 10 percent in the past week, which may also be the result of USA Today's faux poll showing McCain up 4 assuming 98% Republican turnout.

Maybe McSame has lowered the bar so far that the ability to come up with one comprehensible attack message, no matter how juvenile, is a big step for him.  

I'm normally not one for "concern," but this is making me sick to my stomach.  Fortunately, we the voters, volunteers, and donors - and not big media - will decide whether McSame's refuse will prevail.

by SpideyDem 2008-07-31 04:21AM | 0 recs
Besides, when the Mccain campaign

produces an ad that is nothing more than a blatant smear, it saves a ton of money letting the traditional media carry it's water. One run of a smear ad in a swing state gets you that many times over in EVERY market when the traditional media is waiting like rabid Pavlovian dogs for your next morsel. Which they then obediently broadcast, over and over and over. Pathetic.

by Rumarhazzit 2008-07-31 04:28AM | 0 recs
Re: Besides, when the Mccain campaign

It's no use whining about it. What do we do. I thought Obama's response was good actually but at some point if this continues one of the 527's has really got to start trashing McCain god knows there's enough material. Just look at that You tube someone put up yesterday.

by ottovbvs 2008-07-31 04:36AM | 0 recs
Good News

Morning Joe is correct to assess that McCain has looked at the numbers and know they can't beat Obama.  They are throwing a hail mary and the new Quinn. polls show Obama leading in Fl, OH, and Penn.  This has to be heartbreaking for McCain.

Obama keep your ass planted in diners, town halls, and rock out on your speech at the convention.

by hocuspocus 2008-07-31 04:36AM | 0 recs
Re: The Wrong Target

Well, duh, Jonathon...

Instead, they are directed at the political establishment, and the establishment media in DC, in particular.

Everyone knows how critical it is that McCain sow up his base.

by zonk 2008-07-31 04:46AM | 0 recs
Re: The Wrong Target

When you invoke Britney and Paris in a political ad, you've lost all credibility.  Now if only the generale election public felt the same way!

by nzubechukwu 2008-07-31 04:47AM | 0 recs
Re: The Wrong Target

It does lay them open to derision. Even a Republican buddy of mine who is not particularly fond of McCain said god these guys are scraping the bottom of the barrel. Ultimately this is going to rebound on them and I thought Obama's response was very sound and very adult but how much exposure is it going to get. And I do think we need a surrogate dump on McCain and the MOVEON and vote vets ads I've seen were pathetic.

by ottovbvs 2008-07-31 05:07AM | 0 recs
Exactly

I am hoping that this finally opens the eyes of the uncommitted voters who still had that lingering admiration of McCain from 2000.   This is not the same McCain that ran against Bush in 2000, but a McCain that has tried to do what he can to become Bush.

by gavoter 2008-07-31 05:34AM | 0 recs
Re: The Wrong Target

I wish I could be so confident. I don't THINK it's going to work, but the power of beltway media types to define candidates and tilt elections has been growing steadily over the last several decades. In many senses even Obama's primary campaign was as much focused on the MSM elites as it was the voters.

by thirdestate 2008-07-31 05:37AM | 0 recs
Re: The Wrong Target

Sorry Jonathan. The press controls the electoral process, from the start just up to the moment people actually vote. You have to relentlessly court, assuage, accomodate, and persuade the press (especially the DC-based press) against your opponent and for your campaign, just in order retain a basic chance for success. The press routinely kills candidacies and exalts others. The press killed Bob Dole in the summer of 1996. The press is on the verge of doing something similar this year. The McCain people aren't stupid for trying to sow disbelief of Obama among the press. If they turn on Obama in some significant way, the whole arc of the campaign could change profoundly.

One phenomenal success of the Obama campaign has been their quite superior lobbying of the press.

by blueflorida 2008-07-31 06:25AM | 0 recs
Re: The Wrong Target

What I have noticed this time around and in 06 is that the TM's naratives don't seem to be moving the electorate much. With all the cover McInsane has been getting from the press he is gradually loosing ground anyway. The only fools listening and fretting over what the TM is pushing is the TM and all it's talking heads including us. The public seems to be tuning them out! Let's hope I'm not just a bunch of wishful thinking.

by eddieb 2008-07-31 07:02AM | 0 recs
Re: The Wrong Target

Obama, would sew up the Presidency with Hillary Clinton as his VP. McCain would be history. If you want Passion behind a campaign Obama/Clinton is the ticket! I would Campaign for that!

by jheckerman 2008-07-31 07:07AM | 0 recs
Re: The Wrong Target

I could see the attack add now. McInsane agreeing with Clinton who says in the video that Obama isn't ready to be Commander and Chief while she and McInsane are. If you notice McInsane is following Hillary's attack style on Obama now. Don't you agree her primary attacks would be great fodder for the repigs if she were Obamas VP choice!

by eddieb 2008-07-31 08:41AM | 0 recs
The attack ads are intended to discredited the

"shiny new guy".  I don't necessarily believe that the attack ads re. Obama's celeb status will hurt us but I am concerned about McCain's message that Obama is hurting the economy because he is against drilling in the ANWAR.

For many Americans concerned about gas prices, all they need to hear is,

1.  We need to reduce what we pay for oil in order to reduce the price of gas at the pumps.

2. We have oil in the ANWAR - by drilling for that oil we'll reduce your cost of gasoline.

3. Obama refuses to drill there....vote for McC.

Too many Americans are, unfortunately, very susceptible to over-simplified messages like this.

Jonathan Singer, thanks for thoughtful post.

by cChalfonte 2008-07-31 07:13AM | 0 recs
Undermining his message

One of the reasons McCain was the best of a bad lot of the Republicans is that he was the only one who could conceivably run pro-environment, and the public clearly wants a pro-environment candidate this year.

McCain in fact hasn't been good on the environment, but he had the image, had broken with his party on a few important environmental issues, and was one of the few who spoke visibly about climate change as a real, man-made threat.  Substance was weak, but the campaign messaging was strong and it was working.  And he was using that as the focus of his efforts to show that he's not like Bush and the other Republicans.

... so now, not only does he abandon one of those high profile breaks with his party by reversing his opposition to expanding offshore oil drilling...  but he runs an ad attacking Obama on it!

It hands Obama the perfect opportunity to draw a contract: "I'm for renewables, McCain is for oil", severely undercutting McCain's message. Indeed, Obama is doing just that in this new ad:

What's the deal here?  Did they think they could hand Obama an opportunity to undermine McCain's message and the Obama campaign wouldn't run with it?  Or did they somehow fail to notice that they were doing it in the first place?  Do they have any idea what their strategy or message is?  I'm honestly puzzled.

by cos 2008-07-31 09:57AM | 0 recs
Re: The Wrong Target

I'm not particularly impressed with this push by McCain. What concerns me is this farce where a campaign makes a new and controversial ad, spends $20K running it two or three times in a couple of states, and waits for the media to obsess for the next week about the ad. And they do. Every time. It is the modern way of virus campaigning. Why spend millions on an ad going directly to the people when you can just let your ad virus infect the news departments and pundits on every network?

by anoregonreader 2008-07-31 11:08AM | 0 recs
Re: The Wrong Target

I don't think McCain is, necessarily, trying to control the views of the media. But he is definitely trying--and succeeding--in controlling what they talk about. He's creating opportunities for his surrogates to be called and quoted defend the ads by saying Obama's fitness is a legitimate issue. If the ads manage to move the focus away from a look at the results of the Bush years and the prospects for a McCain presidency and shift it to questioning whether Obama is qualified, he's met his goal. On the other hand, he's also creating opportunities of Obama surrogates to declare the McCain campaign bankrupt and desperate and point to the strong and consistent leadership that Obama has displayed throughout the campaign. Sen. McCain, beware unintended consequences.

by Mickeleh 2008-07-31 01:53PM | 0 recs

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