McCain Shakes Up Campaign Staff. Again.

Steve Schmidt takes charge of John McCain's campaign strategyJohn McCain has reshuffled his top campaign staff for the second time is a less than a year, elevating Karl Rove protégé Steve Schmidt to the top post.

Responding to Republican concerns that his candidacy was faltering, Mr. McCain put a veteran of President Bush’s 2004 campaign in charge of day-to-day operations and stepped away from a plan to have the campaign run by 11 regional managers, Mr. McCain’s aides said Wednesday.

The installation of Steve Schmidt, who worked closely with Karl Rove, at Mr. McCain’s headquarters represented a sharp diminishment of the responsibilities of Rick Davis, who has been Mr. McCain’s campaign manager since the last shake-up nearly a year ago.

The shift was approved by Mr. McCain after several of his aides, including Mr. Schmidt, went to him about 10 days ago and warned him that he was in danger of losing the presidential election to Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee, unless he revamped his campaign operation, two officials close to the campaign said.

Mr. Schmidt’s elevation is the latest sign of increasing influence of veterans of Mr. Rove’s shop in the McCain operation. Nicolle Wallace, who was communications director for Mr. Bush in the 2004 campaign (and in his White House) has joined the campaign as a senior adviser, and will travel with Mr. McCain every other week. Greg Jenkins, another veteran of Mr. Rove’s operation who is a former Fox News producer and director of the presidential advance team in the Bush White House, was hired by Mr. Schmidt last week after a series of what Mr. McCain’s advisers acknowledged were poorly executed campaign events.


Mr. McCain’s advisers said that Mr. Davis would continue to hold the position of campaign manager, but that Mr. Schmidt had taken over every major operation where Mr. McCain has shown signs of struggling: communications, scheduling and basic political strategy. Mr. McCain’s aides said Mr. Davis would focus now more on longer-term campaign efforts, including helping with the selection of a running mate and planning for the Republican National Convention, which is now just two months away.


Mr. Schmidt, who is 37, is one of the most intense, hard-driving figures in his party today: when he worked for Mr. Bush, his nickname in the campaign was “The Bullet,” a reference to the shape of his shaved head.  He has been at the center of some of the most politically significant Republican operations of the last 10 years. In working with Mr. Rove and Ken Mehlman, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, Mr. Schmidt has become immersed in the use of data-driven methods to find and turn out Republican voters.

He also ran the campaign’s war room, which was responsible for capitalizing on mistakes of opponents; Mr. McCain’s advisers said that one sign of Mr. Schmidt’s increasing influence in the campaign’s rapid response operation was the quickness with which it seized on a remark by Gen. Wesley K. Clark questioning whether Mr. McCain’s years in Vietnam gave him the experience he needed to be president.

Mr. Schmidt also ran the successful re-election campaign of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the California Republican who won in a Democratic state by embracing moderate positions on issues like the environment and gay rights.

This sort of thing is too inside baseball even for me.  There’s not much doubt that the McCain campaign seemed rather unfocused.  On the other hand, he’s remarkably close to Obama in the polls (currently trailing by an average of 5.4 percent), which is phenomenal given the current state of the Republican brand and the incredible amount of attention Obama has gotten owing to his prolonged primary battle with Hillary Clinton.

Then again, somebody has to be running campaign scheduling and strategy. That person can’t be the candidate.

“Somebody asked, ‘what’s the strategy behind this?’ ” Mr. Black said of the foreign travel. “It’s simple. McCain says he wants to go to these places, and we say of course.”

AllahPundit has more thoughts along those lines.  If Team McCain is going to be run by people who know what the hell they’re doing, it’s a good thing.

The principal objection, of course, will be the Rove angle.   Karl Rove is “an example of how not to do it,” the conventional wisdom now tells us.  But the “it” is decidedly not “running a competent campaign.”  Schmidt has risen to his current position with success.   Further, with McCain, the logical approach is to take the angle Schmidt successfully used in rebuilding Schwarzenegger’s appeal in California rather than the divide-and-conquer strategy for which Rove is infamous.

Marc Ambinder tells us that, “In the year and a half since McCain and Schmidt first got to know each other, the two have grown close, almost like father and son; each very deferential to the other. Schmidt has taught McCain how to be John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate — a different creature from just plain ol’ John McCain.”  That’s pretty much the definition of a good campaign manager.  For McCain to have any chance of winning this thing, he’s going to have to do it as McCain. But any candidate needs to be disciplined to focus on what matters rather than simply doing what interests them.

Photo: Charles Dharapak / Associated Press (Via Andrew Malcolm, LAT)

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Environment, LGBTQ Issues, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Hal says:

    So, if there was any kind of sign that said “another third term for Bush”, I think putting the Schmidt in charge of the campaign is it.

    Lordy, this just keeps getting better.

  2. anjin-san says:

    Four more years! Four more years!

  3. legion says:

    Steve Schmidt? I thought that was Matt Pinfield looming over McCain in that photo. Or possibly Uncle Fester. Either would doubtless prove more competent than anyone previously connected with the Bush administration…