McCain Campaign Postmortem
Newsweek shares several tidbits from their “special election project,” which gave them inside information that they couldn’t publish until after the fact.
Palin’s Spending Spree
NEWSWEEK has also learned that Palin’s shopping spree at high-end department stores was more extensive than previously reported. While publicly supporting Palin, McCain’s top advisers privately fumed at what they regarded as her outrageous profligacy. One senior aide said that Nicolle Wallace had told Palin to buy three suits for the convention and hire a stylist. But instead, the vice presidential nominee began buying for herself and her family—clothes and accessories from top stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus. According to two knowledgeable sources, a vast majority of the clothes were bought by a wealthy donor, who was shocked when he got the bill. Palin also used low-level staffers to buy some of the clothes on their credit cards. The McCain campaign found out last week when the aides sought reimbursement. One aide estimated that she spent “tens of thousands” more than the reported $150,000, and that $20,000 to $40,000 went to buy clothes for her husband. Some articles of clothing have apparently been lost. An angry aide characterized the shopping spree as “Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast,” and said the truth will eventually come out when the Republican Party audits its books.
Palin’s sensibilities as to where the lines of propriety are don’t match mine. As with Troopergate, I find all this rather unseemly and simply not in accordance with how people in positions of public trust should behave. That said, going from the relative minor leagues of Alaska to suddenly co-starring in the Show is a tremendous jump and one suspects neither she nor her family had the appropriate wardrobe at the outset.
McCain and Palin Estranged?
McCain himself rarely spoke to Palin during the campaign, and aides kept him in the dark about the details of her spending on clothes because they were sure he would be offended. Palin asked to speak along with McCain at his Arizona concession speech Tuesday night, but campaign strategist Steve Schmidt vetoed the request.
Palin launched her attack on Obama’s association with William Ayers, the former Weather Underground bomber, before the campaign had finalized a plan to raise the issue. McCain’s advisers were working on a strategy that they hoped to unveil the following week, but McCain had not signed off on it, and top adviser Mark Salter was resisting.
McCain spent thirty years in the military. He ought to have understood Unity of Command better than this. And who the hell ever heard of a losing VP nominee getting stump time at the concession speech?
Obama Threatened As Victory Loomed
The Obama campaign was provided with reports from the Secret Service showing a sharp and disturbing increase in threats to Obama in September and early October, at the same time that many crowds at Palin rallies became more frenzied. Michelle Obama was shaken by the vituperative crowds and the hot rhetoric from the GOP candidates. “Why would they try to make people hate us?” Michelle asked a top campaign aide.
I’m uncomfortable with the insinuation that Palin’s calling him a socialist, even one who “pals around with terrorists,” put the Obamas into harm’s way. It was, however, a shameful approach to campaigning.
Tell McCain He’s Losing?
On the Sunday night before the last debate, McCain’s core group of advisers—Steve Schmidt, Rick Davis, adman Fred Davis, strategist Greg Strimple, pollster Bill McInturff and strategy director Sarah Simmons—met to decide whether to tell McCain that the race was effectively over, that he no longer had a chance to win. The consensus in the room was no, not yet, not while he still had “a pulse.”
I’m guessing McCain knew damned well what his chances were. This was not, after all, his first rodeo. He’s been in Washington longer than Sarah Simmons has been alive.
McCain Too Nice?
McCain also was reluctant to use Obama’s incendiary pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, as a campaign issue. The Republican had set firm boundaries: no Jeremiah Wright; no attacking Michelle Obama; no attacking Obama for not serving in the military. McCain balked at an ad using images of children that suggested that Obama might not protect them from terrorism. Schmidt vetoed ads suggesting that Obama was soft on crime (no Willie Hortons). And before word even got to McCain, Schmidt and Salter scuttled a “celebrity” ad of Obama dancing with talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres (the sight of a black man dancing with a lesbian was deemed too provocative).
McCain’s instincts were right here for two reasons. First, doing these things wouldn’t have done any good. Optimism wins elections, not dourness. Second, he’s absolutely horrible at delivering attack lines that he knows are nonsense. He’s too honorable to not feel sheepish doing it but, alas, not quite honorable enough to resist it.
Obama Thought Debate Questions Stupid, Too
The debates unnerved both candidates. When he was preparing for them during the Democratic primaries, Obama was recorded saying, “I don’t consider this to be a good format for me, which makes me more cautious. I often find myself trapped by the questions and thinking to myself, ‘You know, this is a stupid question, but let me … answer it.’ So when Brian Williams is asking me about what’s a personal thing that you’ve done [that’s green], and I say, you know, ‘Well, I planted a bunch of trees.’ And he says, ‘I’m talking about personal.’ What I’m thinking in my head is, ‘Well, the truth is, Brian, we can’t solve global warming because I f—ing changed light bulbs in my house. It’s because of something collective’.”
We disagree on the scale of government action required but I’m with him on that. Regardless, whether because he vented during prep or just because of his uncanny self-discipline, he managed much better than McCain to pretend the process wasn’t stupid and annoying.