Wednesday, November 05, 2008

THE POST MORTEM

So, if you are more interested in the process of campaigns than in the speeches and all that stuff, you are about to enter a glorious phase. Now is when all of the insiders start spinning their stuff. On the Republican side everyone will explain how their ideas were good, and everyone else screwed up. On the Democratic side everyone will have had perfect knowledge at all times and make EXACTLY the right call.

The interesting thing about these tales is that you can often tell who did the leaking by how the story is told. In fact, the Wall Street Journal today had one of the first of these articles I have seen. Interestingly, it obviously had input from both camps. The title itself starts the blame avoidance game. The article is entitled "As Economic Crisis Peaked, Tide Turned Against McCain." I almost didn't read the article because I could not bear to read that there was nothing the campaign could have done to win . . . blah, blah, blah. However, this article is oh so much better than that. Towit:
. . . in a strategy session of five McCain advisers -- campaign manager Rick Davis, pollster Bill McInturff, strategist Steve Schmidt, ad-maker Fred Davis and strategist Greg Strimple -- the back and forth revealed a fundamental problem. Fred Davis posed a question designed to give the campaign a central focus: "Why should we elect John McCain?" Tellingly, after several hours of debate, the five couldn't reach a consensus.

"Without an overriding rationale, our campaign necessarily turned tactical rather than strategic," one adviser recalls. "We focused more on why Obama should not be president, but much less on why McCain should be."

That exactly sums up the campaign that we witnessed. "Nobama" was the dominant theme. Of course, the other telling thing is that the person NOT mentioned is the candidate himself. Apparently McCain also could not articulate a rationale to elect McCain. For what it's worth, this hatchet job by Rolling Stone set forth a rationale for the McCain campaign that makes as much sense as anything else. To summarize, McCain is trying to achieve the only goal within his grasp that his emotionally-distant father did not achieve. Probably B.S., but it isn't like the McCain campaign had a BETTER rationale.

In the meantime the Democrats knew and saw everything PERFECTLY in real time. Want proof? Here are a couple of quotes:

the next day, while conservative House Republicans maneuvered behind the scenes to block the bailout bill, Sen. McCain sat largely silent at a crisis summit at the White House. Afterward, Sen. Obama called his staff from his car: "I've never seen anything like this," he said, according to several aides. "Some of the Republicans are clueless. Bush and I were trying to convince them."

Indeed. As McCain sat silent, it was actually OBAMA and BUSH (!) who remained level-headed and pushed through the bailout. Later we learn that:

on his weekly strategy call with Democratic senators after the Republican convention in early September, Obama Chief of Staff Jim Messina began, "Let me walk you through this week's events." He was cut off by angry senators calling for a more aggressive response to the Republican running-mate pick: "Go after Palin." "Define Palin." "Make the race about Palin." Mr. Messina was startled by the new nervousness in the party ranks.

In a Sept. 11 meeting in Chicago, Mr. Axelrod addressed his staff. They were worrying about a budding "Palin phenomenon." They had downsized some scheduled events in reaction to her and to ads that painted Sen. Obama as a celebrity. But "this campaign gets in trouble when we do little things; we're better at big things," Mr. Axelrod said. "This race is about the economy and change. For everyone panicking, calm down."

So, even during the height of Palin mania, Axelrod (and Axelrod alone) understood that Palin was a passing fancy and that the economy and change were all that were needed to carry Obama to the White House. Perfect vision in the moment.

Of course, someone is looking out for Palin in this article. Why, even as she faltered, she and her husband could see the error of the (McCain) staff:

Behind the scenes, she and her husband weren't entirely happy on the campaign trail, according to Republican operatives. Todd Palin expressed concern that overpreparation forced on his wife was part of the reason she was underperforming. He called McCain headquarters in Arlington, Va., with pointed questions about how they were isolating Gov. Palin from her own advisers and friends.

They may not be able to effectively fire a state trooper, but they know politics. Unlike that a-hole Steve Schmidt, who resides directly under the bus after we discover that:

In New York, the Republican spent the afternoon huddled with advisers Rick Davis, Mr. Schmidt and Mr. Salter and headed to the Morgan Library in New York to prepare for the approaching debate. Weighing how Sen. McCain should address the financial turmoil, the advisers offered three options, according to Mr. Salter: Keep your distance but monitor developments; be against the federal bailout package "because voters are;" or jump in to work on a government solution.

Mr. Schmidt suggested that the crisis presented a potential "leadership moment" for Sen. McCain: He could suspend his campaign and go to Washington to help negotiate bailout legislation. "If Kansas City blew up, you'd stop doing everything else," Mr. Schmidt told Sen. McCain, according to one adviser. Such an out-of-the-box idea appealed to Sen. McCain, a man who likes to shake up the status quo, another aide says.

Notice how rarely people are named in the quotes I have? Notice how the single most disasterous decision in the McCain campaign, i.e. the erratic on-again, off-again campaign suspension, superman-to-the-rescue-of-the-economy routine, is blamed on Steve Schmidt? By name? Without anyone else being implicated by name? I guess ol' Steve wasn't available for attribution. As luck would have it though, Obama's 20/20 real time vision cut through the ruse:

Obama aides were apoplectic. "This is a gimmick," Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer told his staff. "It's tonally off. There's no outcry for the candidates to get involved. It reeks." He ordered a press release saying Sen. Obama had made the first move that morning by calling Sen. McCain for a joint statement.

When Sen. Obama arrived at his Florida hotel, his top advisers gave him the news. He kept his usual calm, though puzzled and incredulous. "One of us will win and have to deal with the economy -- and everything else," an aide recalls him saying. He wasn't budging on the debate.

Phew. His aides were "apoplectic" but Obama was calm, somewhat puzzled, and incredulous. He sounds like a puppy encountering snow for the first time.

The complete article is replete with this fascinating (to me) stuff, and worth a read if you like this sort of thing. If you really like this sort of gossipy trash, check out The Brethren by Armstrong and Woodward. It's like Perez Hilton for the legal set.

UPDATE: I won't be able to add every article like this, but the LA Times had a good McCain staff versus Palin staff article today. The emerging narrative seems to be that we are all going to blame everything on Steve Schmidt.

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