December 29, 2008

The litany of McCain errors - Part 3

Previously I have looked at how the McCain campaign failed to deliver both in terms of money and demographics. Today I want to review some of the strategic errors the campaign committed.


This is by no means comprehensive, but here's a list of some obvious mistakes the campaign made (in no particular order at this point):

(1) Pennsylvania McCain spent time and money in Pennsylvania. It was a desperation move and it showed. Was he taking for granted Florida, Ohio, North Carolina and Virginia? Was he hoping the polls were wrong and hoping for a miracle? Only he and his team know which. But in the Real Clear Politics average of polls Obama was leading in Pennsylvania by over 7% and won by 10.4%. It was clearly not a contestable state.

It might have made sense if he'd started that effort back in July or August or June when he was busier raising money than campaigning because he opted into federal funding. By the time Pennsylvania became a must win, it was over.

(2) Decentralization The decentralized approach to campaign administration didn't make sense. According to Politico,

McCain will lean heavily on the well-funded Republican National
Committee. He will merge key functions of his campaign hierarchy with the RNC
while also relying on an unconventional structure of 10 regional campaign

How can you farm out operations and have a message get through consistently. If 'All politics is local' and messages are localized, you've lost on branding and message before you've even started.

For all of Obama's 'change' he ran a traditional Democrat campaign - primary left, general election center. Pick the target states and focus the message and marketing efforts. Whether McCain eschewing that was out of financial necessity or planning, there's a reason it gets used - it works.

(3) Using Character The decision to stay hands-off on Wright was a tactical error. The same is true for Ayers. The decision to stay of Rezko was a tactical error (especially in hindsight with the Blagojevich scandal fermenting today). There are many including in the McCain camp who have argued that this is gutter politics. They're right. But this is the big leagues and gutter politics is part of the game.

The timing of these questions was wrong. This message was never released, but rather than questions like this trickling out in October, this should have been the beginning of a narrative that started in June and carried on until hit sunk in and the narrative could move on to other issues with this as the tie-in.

The reason to hammer this issue home is because when you talk about other issues later - oil, the economy, the sub-prime mortgages it plays to 2 big points; (i) Can you trust McCain to try to do the right things on these issues? (ii) Can you trust Obama to have your best interests at heart when addressing these issues?

If you think of the election cycle as a narrative then it needs a story line. You can't hop all over the place and expect the diverse set of sound bytes to have a common thread and therefore stick. You've got to make the point that Obama's biggest concern was and is Obama and McCain's biggest concern was the nation.

(4) Misusing Palin The decision to start Palin twice off on unwelcome ground without some form of editorial control or input was a major tactical error. No, a blunder. According to an article with an interview with Couric on the topic;

Couric also goes in-depth about her now-infamous Sarah Palin interviews. The
interviews were the first serious “vetting” Gov. Palin had received from the
mainstream media. Post-election, some of the gossip coming out of the McCain
campaign suggested that Couric was selected for Gov. Palin’s first media
roll-out because the McCain campaign viewed a female journalist as being more
sympathetic (i.e. “softer”) to Gov. Palin.
If that doesn't show a lack of detailed thinking I don't know what does. Clearly the McCain camp felt the need to play gender politics on the issue. They also seemed to think that would outweigh any political bias Couric or ABC might feel.

The decision to 'handle' Palin rather than let her be herself was a tactical error. The decision to not allow her to stick to her strong points was a mistake. It was misuse of his greatest asset.

Andrea Tantaros had an column about it. Newt Gingrich spoke about it.

(5) Debate Prep At the point of the first debate, McCain needed momentum. He was far too soft in both the first and second debates, allowing Obama to come off as being of Presidential timber. He should have tried much harder to keep Obama off balance and on the defensive. Instead he came across as legislative.

This shouldn't have been what the late night talk shows were talking about. McCain should have come out armed with facts, armed with a debate strategy to get Obama off balance from the beginning and keep him on the ropes. That's easier said than done, but the strategy to talk issues and sound knowledgeable did nothing for McCain, nor should it have been expected to do it.

The only other way he could have made a difference was to take the approach that it seems like only Reagan could successfully take;

(6) Suspending his campaign In order to deal with the bailout issue, McCain suspended his campaign. It was a serious error in a number of respects. Firstly optics - it looked feeble, it looked desperate and it looked confused. It had a negative effect on public perception. Further by signing on to a an unpopular idea (the bailout), McCain's brand was further tarnished by his association with it. Obama came off as cooler, more focused, more sensible.

(7) Complaining about the press like Lanny Davis did, did nothing to help, but not having a workaround to get the message out was the real problem. This is not McCain specific, it is a problem for the entire GOP and conservatives in general. Bypassing the MSM is crucial to future GOP success. The press has shown that they can become more liberal, less impartial and less thorough than we previously thought possible. It's only going to get worse. The Obama victory only served to reinforce their sense of self-importance and is only going to embolden them for more next time. It's going to get uglier. And complaining about it at a minimum antagonizes them, but worse, it distracts us from our own goals - educating the people of America on the real substance behind the issues the country faces.

Next, in Part 4 I'll take a look at the branding issues McCain had with his campaign.

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