Monday, October 13, 2008

How McCain Lost His Brand

An interesting article about how McCain turned the media against him:

McCain’s darlinghood was largely a vestige of his 2000 race in the Republican primaries, when his challenge to George W. Bush and the GOP Establishment, his reformist stances, and, not least, his freewheeling open-access press policy on the Straight Talk Express earned him countless fans among inky-fingered wretches. He emerged from that campaign, despite having lost, as the most popular politician in the nation, and his defiance of Bush on matters such as torture, taxes, and campaign finance only enhanced his stature in the media as a different kind of politician. “His meta-narrative,” says Just, “is that he was authentic, a man of integrity, a man of high moral character.” Or, as McCain’s chief strategist, John Weaver, puts it, “John was the Good Housekeeping seal of approval in American politics.”

But in the middle of the summer, the McCain campaign took a series of steps that appeared on their face to be at odds with the candidate’s gold-plated brand. In the interest of greater message discipline, his advisers eliminated his running back-of-the-bus (or front-of-the-plane) bullshit sessions with reporters. And they turned sharply negative in their approach to Obama, hammering him with a series of ads—seen by some as trivial and trivializing, by others as racially coded, and eventually by most as unexpectedly effective—focused on his status as a celebrity unqualified to be commander-in-chief....

...But then came September—and everything changed. The selection of Palin. The lipstick-pig imbroglio. The ad accusing Obama of supporting the teaching of sex education to kindergartners, along with a slew of other spots rife with distortions and fabrications. Perhaps it was the sheer number of such incidents, perhaps the depth of their mendacity. But the meme began to take hold in the press that the “old McCain” was dead. Or perhaps that he had never existed in the first place. “There was a mismatch between the way he was behaving and the narrative the press had bought into,” observes Just. “It made reporters wonder, ‘Have we been had?’ And when that question starts being asked, it’s a very bad place for a candidate to be.”...

...For McCain, seeing the press—“my base,” as he once famously put it—turn against him has apparently been more than painful. According to people close to the campaign, it accounts for much of the seething, simmering anger that he’s displayed of late on the hustings. And rather than attempting to mute that anger, Schmidt and his associates, with their attacks on the press, are only validating and even stoking it—with borderline disastrous results. The central memes that have always posed the greatest risk to McCain’s candidacy are that he’s dangerously erratic (the dark side of maverick) and that his notorious temper is forever threatening to explode. And, as evinced by the recent spate of stories about his sarcastic, cantankerous performance last week before the Des Moines Register editorial board (THE ANGRY WARRIOR? read the headline in a Washington Post blog), those two memes are now coursing wildly through the media’s collective bloodstream.

It’s possible, of course, that Sarah Palin’s debate performance—competent enough to relegate questions about her readiness and intellectual capacity to the back burner—may help McCain to find his way back to a happier place. But it will do little to alter the fundamentals of the race, which now tilt strongly in Obama’s favor. The financial crisis has not only put the economy front and center, but it has also raised the stakes of the election, thus making the kinds of attacks that kept McCain afloat in the late summer seem tactical and unpersuasive. Moreover, with the media filter where it is now, any wild-assed gambits that McCain undertakes are likely to be dismissed out of hand and vocally called out, thus diminishing their effectiveness.

The irony here is that, for so many months, the campaign being waged by Schmidt & Co. was viewed by the press as devious, sure, but deviously brilliant, delivering to McCain innumerable victories in the battle for the daily—and even hourly—news cycle. But presidential campaigns are perverse, quicksilvery things, and it appears that the very tactics that for a while gave McCain the faint hope of victory are now the main obstacle to any hope of a late-stage revival. Weaver and Murphy, it turns out, were right to worry. The new McCain may have won some news cycles, but he is losing the contest of the meta-narrative—and with it, perhaps, the election.


How McCain Lost His Brand

From maverick to crank in an instant. By John Heilemann


Blogger oliviaharis said...

This is a great post, and reveals how much confusion must come along with trying to pretend that these two parties are all that different. McCain is getting his wires crossed while trying to define his position , and Obama avoids defining his by pointing the finger at McCain. Yes, I will be glued to my TV for these debates, because they will be funnier than SNL.
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6:27 AM  
Blogger Mike said...

"I will be glued to my TV for these debates, because they will be funnier than..."

Olivia, google Socialism, take 10 minutes to become a tiny bit more informed and then repost. You'll see that SNL won't be nearly as funny after Government censorship gets in the game too.

10:05 AM  

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