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.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, US Politics, , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor 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. Palin asked to speak after McCain’s concession speech, but was vetoed by the campaign http://bit.ly/4rmjTu

  2. Triumph says:

    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.

    Give me a break, J-Dawg. She was the GOVERNOR of a state–she wasn’t some oil rig worker. Was she walking around Juneau naked? For someone who was so touted for her executive experience, the assumption that she didn’t have “big league” clothes is a bit hard to swallow.

  3. sam says:

    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’.”

    Gotta love that, whichever side of the divide you stand on.

  4. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    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.

    Since when did bluntly stating the truth become “shameful” when campaigning?

  5. Dantheman says:

    James,

    I am with Triumph on the clothes issue. Or put it another way — let’s assume that an average outfit good enough to wear on the trail costs $1,000 (pricey by most standards, but not outrageous), and that as governor of Alaska she had no such outfits (hard to believe, as even in Alaska she needs to give public speeches, appear at debates, etc.). Her spending equals 150 such wardrobes. Since only about 60 days passed between nomination and the election, this means she is going through 2.5 new outfits per day. Since most people clean and re-wear their clothes (and she has a staff to drop off and pick up dry cleaning), this becomes indefensible.

  6. Floyd says:

    This article should have been published in Playboy instead of OTB…..That way nobody would have been subjected to actually reading it![lol]

  7. James Joyner says:

    Triumph and Dantheman: I take your point. At some point — and I think she exceeded it — a difference in degree becomes a difference in kind.

    And, sure Alaska governors have meetings and wear suits and such. I do think that one has to have nicer clothes when campaigning for VP, although not at Imelda Marcosian levels.

  8. Anderson says:

    Since when did bluntly stating the truth become “shameful” when campaigning?

    McGuire, the election’s over; your guy (and gal) lost.

    Can you please restore our faith in your native wits, and acknowledge that Obama did not “pal around” with Ayers in any plausible sense of the word?

    For one thing, they were not “pals.”

  9. Drew says:

    C’mon, James. We’re not in Kansas anymore.

    “It was, however, a shameful approach to campaigning?”

    Stop the self flaggellation. Democrats are the maters…..routinely charging that:

    “The Republicans refusal to support this spending bill shows they want to:

    – starve our children…..
    – poison our environment….”

    “Republican policies
    – put profits ahead of people
    – want to throw Grandma out in the snow….”

    These populist appeals work. Just look at man in the street interviews. Just look at the polls.
    Are they ridiculous? Yes. Do they work? Yes.

    The standard dignified Republican response (with tweed jacket on, and smoking pipe) “Well you know, economic studies have shown that the marginal increase in tax rates has had an adverse affect on capital formation and employment growth…….” just fall flat compared with “Hey! Dude! You vote for me and I’ll give you stuff for free!!

    If your objective is to win you need to devise a strategy to win. It may involve…..uh, er, “hyperbole.” Otherwise the playground bully is going to rule.

  10. Michael says:

    This article should have been published in Playboy instead of OTB…..That way nobody would have been subjected to actually reading it![lol]

    If these things are depressing you, Floyd, you can always pick a venue that tailors more to your liking.

  11. Drew says:

    I suspect all you clothing navel contemplators will will have nothing to say…….

    NEW YORK (AP) – Michelle Obama’s striking red-and-black dress worn Tuesday night as her husband became president-elect of the United States was designed by Narciso Rodriguez.

  12. sam says:

    The standard dignified Republican response

    And that occurred how many microseconds into the tape before it was never heard again? You know, before the socialist thing took over?

  13. sam says:

    Um, anyone else seeing responses precede the post they’re responding to? Things must be bucketing around in the OTB server, Bermuda Triangle.

  14. Anderson says:

    The chrono sequence of these comments is all askew, like in Pulp Fiction.

  15. Grewgills says:

    The standard dignified Republican response (with tweed jacket on, and smoking pipe)…

    What decade do you live in?

  16. Michael says:

    Um, anyone else seeing responses precede the post they’re responding to? Things must be bucketing around in the OTB server, Bermuda Triangle.

    It turns out that a black Democrat named Barack Hussein Obama winning the US Presidency actually is causing the universe to implode on itself.

  17. John425 says:

    I am so sick of this crap!

    “Insiders, “aides” “confidential sources” is just a lot of hooey. Just repeating this garbage reinforces the story and it has no attribution.

    If any these “sources” had any balls they’d come out to be identified! Otherwise- just petty backstabbing and turf wars by the Beltway types.

    This fiction does not belong in an Outside the Beltway blog unless you are trying to ingratiate yourself with the “insiders”.

  18. sam says:

    If any these “sources” had any balls they’d come out to be identified! Otherwise- just petty backstabbing and turf wars by the Beltway types.

    John, check the Amazon.com best seller list in, oh, say three months.

  19. andrew says:

    I also heard a rumor that Palin spent 5 million bucks on some sort of Greek looking temple at the convention.

  20. davod says:

    “If more big storms were evidence of anthropogenic global warming, what are fewer big storms evidence of?”

    Now you done it. Tomorrow the media will be baying for an investigation into where the temple went.

  21. davod says:

    Ps:

    These leakers are auditioning for a job with the CIA.

  22. jadine says:

    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.

    Since when did bluntly stating the truth become “shameful” when campaigning?

    Linking a person to terrorism without any basis in fact, thus causing a real risk of bodily harm to that person is, in fact, shameful. Bluntly stating the truth was not quite as interesting or *scary*.