McCain’s Advantages Over Clinton in Fighting Obama

McCain’s Advantages Over Clinton in Fighting Obama Mark Halperin argues that Hillary Clinton is hamstrung in her campaign against Barack Obama by the need to have party unity for the general election and lists sixteen “Things McCain can do when running against Obama that Clinton has been unable to do well or at all.” Among them:

1. Play the national security card without hesitation.

2. Talk about the Iraq War without apologies or perceived contradiction.

The second is a dual-edged sword, in that McCain doesn’t have the advantage of having been against the war after he was for it. But, yes, he can be more forthright in drawing contrasts.

5. Make an issue of Obama’s acknowledged drug use.

This would be monumentally silly. Anyone who really cares that Obama experimented with drugs in his youth is likely already in the McCain camp. And what is McCain going to say? “We’ve had a president who used to be a drug addict the last eight years, and look what that brought us?”

7. Exploit Michelle Obama’s mistakes and address her controversial remarks with unrestricted censure.

Unless she’s a complete idiot and continues making the same mistake — what is highly unlikely — this would just make McCain look petty.

8. Play dirty without alienating his party.

But he’d alienate moderates and independents, which are already leaning Obama’s way.

9. Dismiss Obama’s brief national tenure from his own lofty platform of decades in the Senate — there will be no ambiguity about who has more experience as conventionally defined.

This is McCain’s biggest strength and his biggest weakness. Emphasizing experience draws attention to age, not to mention the votes which can be used against him.

10. Use his sterling war record to reinforce his image of patriotism and valor — and contrast it with his opponent’s.

Yes. But he’s going to need to tread very, very lightly on this one. John Kerry mucked up the war hero bit by being hamfisted. (Remember the Gomer Pyle “reporting for duty” salute?)

11. Emphasize Barack Hussein Obama’s unusual name and exotic background through a Manchurian Candidate prism.

Hell, I wouldn’t vote for him if he did that.

12. Employ third party groups like the NRA to hit Obama on issues that might turn off general election voters. Perhaps an ad such as this will run in Ohio: “So, what do you really know about Barack Obama? Did you know he supports meeting with the head of terrorist states? Do you know he wants to get rid of your right to own a handgun? Do you know he is calling for the repeal of the law preventing gay marriage? Do you know he is for a trillion-dollar tax increase? What do you really know about Barack Obama?”

This is hardball but well within bounds. But Obama may well be able to win on some of those issues, especially the need to talk to world leaders rather than continuing the failed policy of ignoring them.

13. Face an electorate less consumed with “change change change” (the main priority for Democratic voters) and keenly interested in “ready from day one” as an equally important ideal.

There is that. But all the polls show a significant Obama lead over McCain; the public does want change, just not as badly as the Democratic nominating electorate.

UPDATE: Both Brad DeLong and Mark Kleiman argue that Halperin is serving as a pro-McCain hatchet man rather than a journalist here, in effect advocating these things rather than merely analyzing the future campaign. I haven’t read Halperin’s work in a serial fashion so don’t have much insight as to his political leanings but, as noted extensively in the original post, adopting these suggestions would do McCain more harm than good. So, if he’s serving as McCain’s inside man at TIME, he’s doing it poorly.

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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. Dave Schuler says:

    By and large Halperin’s advice is lousy.

    What I think that McCain needs to do are to look presidential, stay to the high road, paint an optimistic picture of America’s future and the future of the American people, and turn the discussion to foreign policy and the military as much as possible.

    Obama is weak on both of those issues—his having Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, as a foreign policy advisor is an enormous aid to reinforcing the notion that he’s weak. Link Obama to Carter’s foreign policy failures.

  2. Triumph says:

    This is McCain’s biggest strength and his biggest weakness. Emphasizing experience draws attention to age, not to mention the votes which can be used against him.

    Additionally, it will allow Obama to raise the question about why McCain hasn’t accomplished a whole lot in his decades as a Senator. Other than McCain-Feingold (which much of the Republican base hates) McCain’s only real claim to fame has been his tragic and unfortunate experience as a POW. Outside of campaign finance his Senate accomplishments are pretty much limited to shilling for his campaign contributors like the crook Charles Keating and Paxon.

    Since the “war” meme is basically all McCain has to run on, it is going to be a hard road to travel. Even though violence is down in Iraq (thanks to the successful displacement of millions of Iraqis), voters at this point are “war weary.”

    “Change” is the mantra and Hussein has the corner on that market.

  3. Steve Plunk says:

    This is the worst advice I’ve ever seen given to a candidate.

    How about play up McCain’s years of experience versus Obama’s lack of experience. Detail the differences in domestic spending priorities and tax policy. Like Dave S. says use foreign policy as a defining trait for each candidate.

    Hollow rhetoric may excite the college kids and old hippies but real policy stances and a solid platform of governing principles will excite those who vote.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Additionally, it will allow Obama to raise the question about why McCain hasn’t accomplished a whole lot in his decades as a Senator.

    McCain’s Senate career has been concentrated mostly in the foreign and military policy arenas; not a lot of legislation is going to come of that. He did do the anti-torture bill.

  5. Arcs says:

    What I think that McCain needs to do is to look presidential. . .

    That’s pretty funny.

  6. Mr. Unite Us says:

    Lots advice on how to beat Obama,
    But why are there no articles about what
    Obama needs to do secure the nomination
    and win the general election.

  7. Triumph says:

    McCain’s Senate career has been concentrated mostly in the foreign and military policy arenas; not a lot of legislation is going to come of that. He did do the anti-torture bill.

    True, but the more I look at the dynamics of the election, the more it looks like 1992: old codger with no real interest in domestic issues facing young upstart during a time of economic uncertainty.

    If the economy lapses into a recession, I am not sure how McCain can effectively respond.

  8. legion says:

    Is it just me, or – with the possible exception of point #1 – is this not exactly what Hillary’s been doing the last few months? And in the process, losing her entire forward momentum by alienating everyone who’s not already one of her partisans?

    Back in the day, I said Hillary’s main weakness as a candidate is that she’s too polarizing – people either love her or despise her, regardless of party lines. She had a brief window at the beginning where she could have proven me wrong, but she’s clearly decided that winning is more important than staying out of the GOP’s dirty tricks bag

  9. Derrick says:

    True, but the more I look at the dynamics of the election, the more it looks like 1992: old codger with no real interest in domestic issues facing young upstart during a time of economic uncertainty.

    If the economy lapses into a recession, I am not sure how McCain can effectively respond.

    Personally, I think that his comments about caring about the economy are going to be a much worse albatross than even the “100 years in Iraq” quote. I just think having a President who is kind of blase’ about the economy is not going to be attractive for independents. The thought of a “War Presidency” seems to only be exciting to a President and those who really like war, which I would put in the vast minority.

  10. Barry says:

    “If the economy lapses into a recession, I am not sure how McCain can effectively respond.”

    ‘IF’? We’re there. And given that a real economy [1] rebound takes a year or two or three, the GOP will have to conduct a campaign during a recession. With a candidate who’s clear attitude is ‘f*ck you – get a lobbyist to give you some money’.

    -Barry

    [1] by ‘real economy’, I mean for 90% of people – job, wages, etc. Economists like to proclaim that a recovery started when the economy bottomed out, which makes as much sense for most people’s situation as proclaiming that spring starts on Dec 22, because the days are getting longer.

  11. legion says:

    What Barry said. Despite his “maverick” label, McCain had had to toe the GOP policy line to stay competitive throughout the primary season & get the nomination, and that means a lot of promises to basically keep doing the same things Bush has been doing. That may be good for the red-meat crowd, but it’s doom in the general election – nobody outside the RW echo chamber actually approves of pretty much _any_ of Bush’s policies on any front these days.

    If the Dems have any sense, they need to be building a huge database of everything McCain has been saying, so they can shove it in his face when he tries to tack back to the left after the convention…

  12. Obamamania says:

    Obama is our Savior. Please everyone, we must rally around Obama and Michelle and empower them to create the change we need in evil, racist america. Then we will give Michelle something to be proud about when it comes to racist america. Michelle was oppressed at Princeton and Harvard and gave voice to all who know what an evil country this was until Obama ran for President. Barak will treaty with our muslim brothers and apologize for an arrogant america.