John McCain’s Message

Daniel Strauss sat through a session at the center-left New America Foundation yesterday and came away with an epiphany about John McCain’s campaign: “It’s what he’s saying, not how he says it.”

Jeremy Rosner observed,

A lot of people have noted he’s just very incoherently between the right and the center, between offshore drilling and $300 million prizes for new electric batteries. … He just hasn’t figured out a strategy for being a presidential candidate. My advice is that he needs to sort of place a clear bet on whether he’s trying to do another Karl Rove base consolidation strategy or whether he’s truly trying to gun for the middle and change the Republican party — he just hasn’t figured that out.

Michael Cohen added,

If I were to ask all of you here ‘What is Barack Obama’s key message for his campaign?’ most of you could probably could answer pretty quickly, I’m assuming you would say change. If I asked you all the same question about John McCain’s campaign message I’m seeing a lot of blank faces.

I’d say McCain’s bumper sticker message is “Elect a grown-up.” And I don’t think wanting to drill for more oil while simultaneously trying to end our need for it in the longer term is at all problematic; it’s essentially a right-of-center answer to Bill Clinton’s “third way.”

I do, however, agree with the overall assessment: McCain isn’t running a focused, message based campaign. “Change” and “Hope” continue to strike me as an incredibly weak platform on which to seek the presidency but there’s not much doubt that we could use some of both. McCain’s got an uphill fight if he wants to convince people to vote to keep the White House in Republican hands and trust the cranky, old guy rather than the exciting, young one. Continually showing us videos of himself in a POW camp won’t get it done.

via Hal Hildebrand

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Hoss says:

    Only problem is that the “change” and “hope” message has been obliterated. That is, unless you consider Obama “changing” his mind every fifteen minutes for political expediency to be some new paradigm of change for a politician. A presidential camapaign is a far, far cry from being a favored democrat in the Chicago machine, or running a Senate race against Alan Keyes. He actually has to stand on his own two feet and actually stand for something, and frankly I believe he’s being shown as a light-weight, good thing he’s being propped-up by a fawning press.

    And the left really could have hammered McCain on his age and vitality if it weren’t for Obama’s blaming his slip-ups on being tired. McCain has looked far more spry and tireless. And, I believe there was an article in the LA Times yesterday lamenting the fact that poor Barry hadn’t had a vacation in months…adding to the “he’s tired” meme.

  2. Hal says:

    “Elect a grown-up.”

    Hmmm. Wasn’t that the whole 2000 theme as well? Really worked out pretty well, given a – what? – approval rating in the mid 20’s. But, “elect a grown-up” isn’t a message, really. Even if you think it is, it’s just reinforcing the whole “grumpy old man in a pink bathrobe and bunny slippers shaking a golf club yelling at kids to get off his lawn” image which he has in spades.

    Continually showing us videos of himself in a POW camp won’t get it done.

    Seems to be pretty much all they have.

  3. sam says:

    Heh. All this reminds me of mayoral campaigns in New York City in yesteryears. When John Lindsay was running, one of his slogans was, “He’s fresh, the others are tired.” In a subsequent campaign, someone, I forget who, was “old” running against some others who were “older”. Somebody suggested his campaign slogan be, “He’s tired, the others are dead.”

  4. Hal says:

    I always thought McCain should have the slogan:

    I’ve suffered for my country, now it’s your turn

  5. Boyd says:

    “Elect a grown-up.”
    Hmmm. Wasn’t that the whole 2000 theme as well?

    Hal, lay off the recreational drugs. How was a race between George W Bush and Al Gore anything like the current race between McCain and Obama? Unless you’re talking about Gore’s look-down-my-nose-at-the-idiot campaign. Given your next sentence, though, I doubt it. You’re usually pretty good at maintaining a line of thought.

    Really worked out pretty well, given a – what? – approval rating in the mid 20’s.

    I don’t think it the object was to have a given approval rating eight years later. If I remember correctly, the point was to win an election in 2000. Whatever the Bush campaign theme was back then, it appears to have worked. Don’t you think?

  6. Hal says:

    If I remember correctly, the point was to win an election in 2000. Whatever the Bush campaign theme was back then, it appears to have worked. Don’t you think?

    If I recall correctly, 2000 resulted in the popular vote going for Gore and the Supreme court deciding the Florida vote in favor of Bush.

    So, characterizing the strategy as having “worked” seems to be stretching the definition considerably.

    George W Bush and Al Gore anything like the current race between McCain and Obama?

    Well, if I was McCain, I wouldn’t want to bring back any comparisons or bind myself even casually in people’s minds with Mr. 25% approval.

    My point is that quite a few conservatives thought that Bush was going to bring back dignity to the office and put the adults back in charge. Given the torture, constitutional violations, horrific domestic “policies”, massive inflation of the government, two war fiascoes, and the general agreement of a completely dysfunctional, infighting cabinet, etc, all except the most ardent wing nuts have basically given up on even the pretense that the adults were put back in charge.

    So, the quote from Eastwood – “do you feel lucky” – would probably be running through most people’s mind when one thinks about electing another republican to the office on the platform of “electing a grownup”. Especially since the only thing he can come up with as a reason is his experience as a POW a couple of decades ago.

  7. Triumph says:

    McCain’s winning message should be simple: Elect a patriot, not a radical Al-Quaeda-style terrorist.

  8. Tlaloc says:

    McCain has looked far more spry and tireless.

    Wow.

    McCain spry…

    No… no, I don;t even know where to begin. Just “Wow.”

  9. Hal says:

    Wow.

    McCain spry…

    It’s all relative; 1 is infinitely greater than 0.

  10. just me says:

    I agree that McCain needs a core message for his campaign.

    And while “I’m not the other guy” is often a typical campaign strategy it is one that generally fails.

  11. Boyd says:

    If I recall correctly, 2000 resulted in the popular vote going for Gore and the Supreme court deciding the Florida vote in favor of Bush.

    So, characterizing the strategy as having “worked” seems to be stretching the definition considerably.

    In this context, it would seem that the campaign strategy “working” would end up with winning the election (which, you may recall, doesn’t depend on the popular vote). Bush is President, so it sure looks to me like it “worked” without stretching any definition.

    George W Bush and Al Gore anything like the current race between McCain and Obama?

    Well, if I was McCain, I wouldn’t want to bring back any comparisons or bind myself even casually in people’s minds with Mr. 25% approval.

    Now you’re stretching, Hal. You were the one who drew the parallel with the 2000 race.

    My point is that quite a few conservatives thought that Bush was going to bring back dignity to the office and put the adults back in charge.

    Touché. But that was “they were irresponsible, we’ll fix that” (which they actually did, in certain areas that matter more to people like me than they do to people like you) as opposed to “my opponent just got out of diapers yesterday.” There’s a whole lot of difference between the two messages beyond the similar label of being “adults.”

  12. Mark says:

    The maverick McCain of 2000 and the current McCain of 2008 are two different people.

    He has flipped-flopped on Social Security, oil drilling, campaign financing, the use of torture, the GI Bill, immigration, abortion, gun control, President Bush’s tax cut appeasing the religious right…

  13. anjin-san says:

    Whatever the Bush campaign theme was back then, it appears to have worked.

    Well it worked for Bush. Did not work out so well for America, or the rest of the world…

  14. Boyd says:

    Of course, I was referring to facts, anjin-san. Not opinions, or even better, feelings.

  15. “Change” and “Hope” continue to strike me as an incredibly weak platform on which to seek the presidency

    ::

    They continue to strike me as an incredibly powerful platform. Especially the hope part. I’d never underestimate the power of hope. For many, it’s about all they’ve got left.

    As for McCain’s message: he’s not exactly a grown-up. Being a septuagenarian doesn’t make one grown.

  16. af says:

    “Elect a grownup”

    Wasn’t that what Bob Dole said in 1996?

    Good luck with it.

  17. Hal says:

    Bush is President, so it sure looks to me like it “worked” without stretching any definition.

    And you used to actually have rational arguments back in the day, Boyd… Ex post facto reasoning about winning a divided vote in a court is creative, I’ll give you that.

    You were the one who drew the parallel with the 2000 race.

    Only in that “elect a grownup” has obvious parallels to the 2000 race – hey, even angry conservatives have figured this one out.

    “my opponent just got out of diapers yesterday.”

    Interesting framing, and top marks for the spin. However, “out of diapers” when you’re 46 is something that I doubt most would agree with. And if you think that highlighting the fact that McCain would be the oldest dude to be a first term president… well, I think you’re insane, but you campaign with the slogans you have, not the slogans you wish you had.

    There’s a whole lot of difference between the two messages beyond the similar label of being “adults.”

    Perhaps, but good slogans have multiple interpretations which synergetically reinforce each other. This one, as far as I can tell, has multiple interpretations which *do* reinforce each other but reinforce the one thing that I thought McCain’s campaign was trying to run away from and downplay.

    Obama might be “just out of diapers”, but McCain looks like he’s back in them – using Depends. Perhaps the whole “diapers” thing needs a bit of calibration.

    Let me know how that all works out.

  18. anjin-san says:

    Of course, I was referring to facts, anjin-san. Not opinions, or even better, feelings.

    Facts. You mean like the deficit, the resurgence of the Taliban, Bin Laden still at large, the economy going south, the Katrina fiasco.

    Those kind of facts?

  19. Floyd says:

    If you don’t exhibit a blank stare in response to amorphous answers like “change” or “hope” then there certainly can be nothing behind those eyes with that look of meaningful understanding![lol]

  20. Savvy says:

    Obama’s a Marxist. That kind of change … we don’t need.

    Has Obama ever articulated what he is ‘hoping’ for, other than to be elected president?

    I’m voting for Alan Keyes in 2008
    Independent Candidate

    http://www.AlanKeyes.com