McCain: Invincible? Not so much.
by BlueBlogger, Tue Jul 25, 2006 at 10:07:56 AM EDT
Chris Cillizza in the WP's political blog "The Fix" talks today about reasons Obama could run in 2008 (though he thinks that he won't). So today on Boldly Blue, we're going to talk about the 2008 presidential forecast, but in a bold new way. As is traditional for our bold website.
For all the pundits out here, I'll throw out a mild shocker: we shouldn't be looking for a good candidate--we need to find a good message.
That part's fairly obvious, especially considering it's what pundits have been saying for years. The shocker part comes from a suggestion I have: values aren't just a good defense (as in, clearly defining and pushing the Democratic values message), but they're a good offense as well.
Example time. Time to break out the NWOT again!
Old way of thinking: John McCain is a war hero who talks straight and represents America.
New way of thinking: John McCain is a Washington insider who flip-flops when is convenient.
See cartoon for emphasis, albeit a little forceful/polemic.
Now wait--I know what you're thinking: John McCain is pretty much unbeatable, he has the character issue down pat (as does the Republican Party), we should buckle down the fort and just try to win Congress.
More optimism, my blue friends!
McCain's greatest strength (his character) is also his greatest weakness. Without character, McCain becomes "another politician." This is one of the major reasons he lost in the 2000 primaries--Bush's slander attacks made him so mad that he lost his composure and came off as surly and ill-tempered, breaking his monopoly on the character issue.
So how does this message work?
GOAL 1: To deactivate social conservatives (especially the religious right).
The most plausible outcome of this message is a deactivation of social conservatives. By reminding the American public of some of McCain's statements (Jerry Falwell is evil, for example). Wedge McCain on this issue--either he becomes a straight-talking guy who made some very nasty statements about the right, or he becomes a flip-flopping panderer. Win-win. This won't swing people to the Democratic Party, nor should it--the goal is simply to instill enough doubt in John McCain to severely weaken a key part of the Republican base.
The flip-flopping message will be strengthened further if he forgoes the campaign finance restrictions imposed by the McCain-Feingold bill (which he no doubt will have to, in order to compete with his Democratic opponent). Stepping aside the very regulations he pushed for himself is the height of hypocrisy, and must be communicated to the public.
GOAL 2: Frame McCain early and often, much like the Republicans did to John Kerry (and to liberals in general).
Imagine a campaign ad, shortly before September or so:
"John McCain says he's for programs that benefit the American people. But he also called for campaign finance reform, and then abandoned the very restrictions he championed. America doesn't need more politicians who deceive and flip-flop to look good. America needs leadership."
"Where do you really stand, John McCain?"
John Kerry never really recovered from conservative framing of his campaign, and we can't fall victim to the same attacks again.
All that it takes to beat John McCain is a will and an understanding of framing. McCain is strong, but so are message frames. As my friend from The Dem IM says, let's get to work.