McCain Needs to Choose an Issue and Stick With It

I generally dislike backbiting stories like this one in the Politico fronting every consultant's gripe about the McCain campaign. Stories like this tend to conveniently appear when a candidate is behind in the polls, to be replaced by paeans to the infinite wisdom of the campaign if the candidate pulls slightly ahead. Most of the time, day-to-day movement in the polls has nothing to do with these tactical shifts. McCain running a lean campaign and eschewing the BC'04 organizational model can appear either foolhardy or forward-thinking depending on what poll you're looking at. This isn't exactly helpful.

What's more difficult and necessary is developing a coherent gameplan for what the campaign needs to do better that applies in both good times and bad. Just because the polls tighten, that doesn't mean all is well with the world and the campaign can go back to what it's been doing.

Throughout the last few months, I've had this nagging sense that McCain is running a conventional Republican campaign in the worst possible environment for this strategy.

Policy rollouts seem to happen in a vacuum. McCain seemingly refuses to take on the elephant in the room, the Bush White House, and develop a coherent narrative for how he'd be different other than more press conferences. Though close observers can tell you the differences, regular voters couldn't tell you since McCain has yet to strategically display anger at some of the missed opportunities of the last eight years (spending, Katrina, Iraq, etc.). The media and the voters get conflict and contrast, not politely worded speeches. We have yet to see any from McCain directed at Bush.  For a candidate who faces a 3.63 to 1 press deficit, this kind of attention-grabbing strategy is critical. 

It seems also that McCain was helped by his very narrow path to the nomination in the primaries. Then, it was clear what he should talk about because those were the only things he could talk about. And those were mostly spending and the surge.

In the primaries, McCain was always the most disciplined candidate about aligning his personal narrative with what needed to be done to win the election. But given a wider playing field and several different paths to victory, McCain can't seem to decide which to embrace. It's sort of reminiscent of his pre-implosion days, when everything was a scattershot "message of the week" with the economy one week, immigration the next, followed by Iraq.

Though base Republicans might not like it, McCain must be the maverick-reformer-fighter who is shooting the breeze off-message on the back of the bus. I think the campaign is actually more hung up about this than they need to be. Yes, the Republican base didn't like this McCain in 2000. But guess what? They are now bought in, and they like losing a whole lot less. Any strategy that will make McCain look like more of a winner will bring Republicans along, even if it's outwardly less conservative. (This is an analytical point, not necessarily a wish.)

McCain seems to get at this indirectly by attacking Obama as a conventional politician. But "a different kind of politics" is not actually the Obama brand. Obama has actually been pivoting to a safe message of partisan change from the Bush years -- less "Change We Can Believe In" and more "Change That Works for You." McCain often makes contrasts to the hypocrisy of  Obama's old reformist message -- without reintroducing the general electorate to his own reformer status in a systematic way.

Message wise, McCain seems to be paralyzed by indecision between multiple different ways to get at Obama -- is he a phony? a naif? too liberal? There has been nothing as disciplined as the Kerry flip flopper meme.

The body language I hear from the campaign is that Obama will not be defeated on issues, but on attributes, mostly stuff like the Clark kerfuffle when they can scuff the other side up with their own hypocrisy.

I'm a big fan of attributes and meta-narratives as the centerpiece of campaign strategy, but those attributes must be tied to some semblance of a winning position on the issue landscape. And especially in an election year, a candidate's advocacy for a specific issue position can change the dynamics of the issue for the better. So, in 2004, Bush's personal decisiveness contrasted with Kerry's indecisiveness in a time of war. That message was not introduced in a vacuum.

McCain must decide to engage on the issue landscape and win a key battle on it in some fashion, either by outright winning or by bringing it close enough that McCain's reputation can seal the deal. If McCain appears out of synch with the issue landscape, none of his leadership attributes will matter.

The issue I keep coming back to is Iraq. Why isn't McCain telling people that he is the key reason why things are turning around in Iraq? His decisive support for the surge was a key part of his message in the primaries, but has been nonexistent in the general.

This may seem like an odd issue on which to engage. Iraq is supposed to be toxic. And yet McCain has repeatedly engaged on it, most recently in challenging Obama to go to Iraq with him.

Bringing things back to the surge would actually allow McCain to trash the incompetence, etc. of the previous Iraq strategy, aligning himself with most voters. But by elevating the issue, he'd also be performing a public service -- aligning public support for the war with the partisan divide, hence increasing it, and getting the message out about the improving situation on the ground. At a minimum, an effort like this, even if it fell short, would render a rapid withdrawal under an Obama administration politically untenable.

The surge also happens to be a remarkable testament to McCain's judgment and his aptitude to be Commander-in-Chief. Though energy might be a more profitable issue in some respects, I don't know that McCain has room to get the contrast he needs on it given his past opposition to things like ANWR. McCain can get an election winning contrast on Iraq if he can use his positioning to improve the underlying optics of how the public perceives the issue.

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Comments

He also need to stop wasting his time

spanning the globe and hone in on secondary or tertiary markets in the half dozen states that really matter.

Agreed

I think McCain should go after the "left-wing liberal" theme more, and less after the "inexperienced" theme.  The American people elected Bush, who in my opinion had very little experience.  I think voters are more interested in where we are going rather than where we have been.  If McCain can convince the American people that Obama's "change" will actually hurt us, I really think he can put the hurt on Obama.

Obama's specific policies are very unpopular when taken individually, but his campaign theme as an agent of change is popular.  If McCain can define specifically what Obama's change is really all about, he's toast.

Are you serious? ...

Putting Rove's motley bunch in charge of McCain's campaign is not a way to assure the American public that McCain's policies won't hurt us.  Do you want $10/gallon gas?  That is where McCain would be headed.

Long Term Energy Policy

What McCain's Long Term Energy Policy Should Be

McCain's energy statements in the last few days, while good and a step in the right direction, lacks coherence. It was a fragmented presentation and therefore, unconvincing. He has to present a whole picture  in simple terms that the average voter can easily understand. Here is the whole picture McCain should present to the voters:

Climate change is here. Global Warming is here. High gas prices are here. Here is my plan to address these hugh problems now confronting us. Our country consumes 20% of the world's energy and produces 25% of the CO2 gas emissions. We need the energy to sustain our society, our industries and our infrastructures. But we also need to lower our CO2 emissions significantly to reduce Global Warming and Climate Changes to make our earth continue to be livable as we know it. In the last few years, we have seen the dramatic shift in weather patterns,  the devastating effects of recent 100 year floods, droughts, fires and tornado's on  large population centers and farm areas. It will likely get much worse in the coming years. We need to move quickly and the time is now. Respected scientists tell us we have only a few years to make the massive adjustments before our Climate Changes becomes irriversible. We cannot afford to wait until things get worse before we do something, for then will be too late.

We need to reduce the amount of CO2 we generate in our daily activities to a level that the earth can handle. To accomplish this reduction, we need to take critical steps in several areas. Here are the major ones:

1) Electric power generation. Switch away from oil, gas and coal fired plants and into wind, solar and nuclear power.

2) Transportation. Switch away from gas and diesel powered vehicles and trucks to pure or hybrid electric powered ones. Electrify our railrway system as they have in Europe.

3) Industrial, commercial and residential. Switch away from gas and oil fired equipment and appliances and into electric powered equipment and appliances.

4) Conservation. Reduce our energy consumption by  eliminating wastes, using more efficient equipment and machines.

5) Reforestation. Plant new trees, restore forests. We need to capture carbon from the air and back into wood. Use wood but do not burn wood.

As you can see, the  solution is, we need to move away from using hdrocarbon as our main source of energy and move into wind, solar and nuclear. Consequently, the demand for electric power will be multiplied many times over what we now have and wind and solar cannot fill the gap. But nuclear can.

Nuclear power is the only non-CO2 producing power generator big enough to replace our existing coal, gas and oil powered power plants. We need to start replacing them now and add more. We need these clean electric power generators to supply electric power for our homes and cars and transportation and industrial needs. Yes, I will encourage and promote  the switch to electric power usage to drastically reduce our generation of CO2.

I will start massive nuclear research programs to develop fast breeder nuclear power plants that not only will utilize 100% of it's nuclear fuel thereby reducing nuclear waste, but also breed more fuel than it consumes. This type of nuclear power plant hold the promise of providing massive power almost in perpetuity. Yes, almost in perpetuity by today's standards, much like our sun provides endless light. In the mid 90's our researchers were at the point of building a prototype when the Clinton administration stopped it. China and Russia are conducting their own research now and are way ahead of us. The good news is, we can restart the research where we left off; we do not have to start from scratch.

While we are building conventional nuclear plants, we have to rely on use of hydrocarbon fuel. We need to allow drilling in our offshore areas and Alaska to reduce our reliance on foreign oil sources, some of which are owned by governments that don't like us. We need to keep our money within our country and reduce our deficits. Yes, it will take a few years to get oil out of the offhore fields but do we want to wait to act until the price of crude reaches $300 a barrel? Do we want to wait until one or two of the oil producing countries decide they do not like our policies and impose an embargo much like 1973? 

Our need for oil will not end. Airplanes need hydrocarbon fuels to fly. Heavy duty trucks, trains and ships will need oil and so will some vehicles traveling long distances. Electric cars will be limited to short distance drives in the forseable future. Research into shale oil extraction need to be encouraged and supported. We have more shale oil than in the middle east.

As you can now see, my plan involves a massive switch in our way of life. Some industries will fold and close but many more new ones will come up and florish. This program will result not in a loss of jobs but a switch in jobs and more. New opportunities will open up and we can look ahead to a better world, a better future for us, our children and generations to come.

I will ask the other countries to follow our lead and join us in reducing global warming. The whole world need to work together. As President, I will push hard to get this plan implemented.

**************

McCain has been accused of flip plopping on energy. Until a few years ago, how many people understood Global Warming and Climate Change? He now understands and accepts it and is moving to fix it. This is the biggest issue the world will ever face and he is addressing it. This is leadership and this is visionary.

 

 

Long Term Energy Policy

What McCain's Long Term Energy Policy Should Be

McCain's energy statements in the last few days, while good and a step in the right direction, lacks coherence. It was a fragmented presentation and therefore, unconvincing. He has to present a whole picture  in simple terms that the average voter can easily understand. Here is the whole picture McCain should present to the voters:

Climate change is here. Global Warming is here. High gas prices are here. Here is my plan to address these hugh problems now confronting us. Our country consumes 20% of the world's energy and produces 25% of the CO2 gas emissions. We need the energy to sustain our society, our industries and our infrastructures. But we also need to lower our CO2 emissions significantly to reduce Global Warming and Climate Changes to make our earth continue to be livable as we know it. In the last few years, we have seen the dramatic shift in weather patterns,  the devastating effects of recent 100 year floods, droughts, fires and tornado's on  large population centers and farm areas. It will likely get much worse in the coming years. We need to move quickly and the time is now. Respected scientists tell us we have only a few years to make the massive adjustments before our Climate Changes becomes irriversible. We cannot afford to wait until things get worse before we do something, for then will be too late.

We need to reduce the amount of CO2 we generate in our daily activities to a level that the earth can handle. To accomplish this reduction, we need to take critical steps in several areas. Here are the major ones:

1) Electric power generation. Switch away from oil, gas and coal fired plants and into wind, solar and nuclear power.

2) Transportation. Switch away from gas and diesel powered vehicles and trucks to pure or hybrid electric powered ones. Electrify our railrway system as they have in Europe.

3) Industrial, commercial and residential. Switch away from gas and oil fired equipment and appliances and into electric powered equipment and appliances.

4) Conservation. Reduce our energy consumption by  eliminating wastes, using more efficient equipment and machines.

5) Reforestation. Plant new trees, restore forests. We need to capture carbon from the air and back into wood. Use wood but do not burn wood.

As you can see, the  solution is, we need to move away from using hdrocarbon as our main source of energy and move into wind, solar and nuclear. Consequently, the demand for electric power will be multiplied many times over what we now have and wind and solar cannot fill the gap. But nuclear can.

Nuclear power is the only non-CO2 producing power generator big enough to replace our existing coal, gas and oil powered power plants. We need to start replacing them now and add more. We need these clean electric power generators to supply electric power for our homes and cars and transportation and industrial needs. Yes, I will encourage and promote  the switch to electric power usage to drastically reduce our generation of CO2.

I will start massive nuclear research programs to develop fast breeder nuclear power plants that not only will utilize 100% of it's nuclear fuel thereby reducing nuclear waste, but also breed more fuel than it consumes. This type of nuclear power plant hold the promise of providing massive power almost in perpetuity. Yes, almost in perpetuity by today's standards, much like our sun provides endless light. In the mid 90's our researchers were at the point of building a prototype when the Clinton administration stopped it. China and Russia are conducting their own research now and are way ahead of us. The good news is, we can restart the research where we left off; we do not have to start from scratch.

While we are building conventional nuclear plants, we have to rely on use of hydrocarbon fuel. We need to allow drilling in our offshore areas and Alaska to reduce our reliance on foreign oil sources, some of which are owned by governments that don't like us. We need to keep our money within our country and reduce our deficits. Yes, it will take a few years to get oil out of the offhore fields but do we want to wait to act until the price of crude reaches $300 a barrel? Do we want to wait until one or two of the oil producing countries decide they do not like our policies and impose an embargo much like 1973? 

Our need for oil will not end. Airplanes need hydrocarbon fuels to fly. Heavy duty trucks, trains and ships will need oil and so will some vehicles traveling long distances. Electric cars will be limited to short distance drives in the forseable future. Research into shale oil extraction need to be encouraged and supported. We have more shale oil than in the middle east.

As you can now see, my plan involves a massive switch in our way of life. Some industries will fold and close but many more new ones will come up and florish. This program will result not in a loss of jobs but a switch in jobs and more. New opportunities will open up and we can look ahead to a better world, a better future for us, our children and generations to come.

I will ask the other countries to follow our lead and join us in reducing global warming. The whole world need to work together. As President, I will push hard to get this plan implemented.

**************

McCain has been accused of flip plopping on energy. Until a few years ago, how many people understood Global Warming and Climate Change? He now understands and accepts it and is moving to fix it. This is the biggest issue the world will ever face and he is addressing it. This is leadership and this is visionary. He should stick with this one!

 

 

You can't be serious?

"Electric power generation. Switch away from oil, gas and coal fired plants and into wind, solar and nuclear power."

There is no way we can replace oil, gas and coal as our primary fuels to generating electricity in this country within the next 30 years, even with the addition of 45 nuclear power plants. And for solar and wind, perhaps 50 years, even longer if you include powering our industry and transportation needs as well.

Now don't get me wrong, we, as a nation, will have to get there at some point. But costly sacrifices that must be made cannot be made until there is an absolute need for them to be made. Until that time, the best policy is to "Drill Now".

ex animo

davidfarrar

I'm a big fan of attributes

I'm a big fan of attributes and meta-narratives as the centerpiece of campaign strategy...

Why so coy? What does this mean, exactly?

 

I'd like to take a crack at this one

I believe that by attributes, Patrick is referring to characteristics of a candidate or things associated with a candidate (rather than the policies of the candidate) such as the statements made by his surrogates, i.e.

  1. Wesley Clark's statements reducing McCain's POW experience to that of riding in a fighter plane which doesn't qualify him for the Presidency.
  2. Samantha Powers explaining how Obama will stay in Iraq if it make more sense when the time comes for him to do so.
  3. Austan Goolsbee explaining how Obama's statements denouncing NAFTA in Ohio were merely subterfuge and pandering, and that he won't cross our allies in Canada when push comes to shove. 

If we think of the word meta as meaning beyond or about something, then meta-narratives would be stories about narratives, and these should be able to help us (the voting masses) be able to categorize and order things in a simplified fashion.  I believe that examples of meta-narratives can be found in defining words like multiculturalism, post-nationalism, secular Progressivism, things like that - shorthand that is ideally chock full o'meaning.

Yes we have to switch away from OIl, gas and Coal

When I say switch away I mean reduce our major dependence on these hydrocarbon fuels to a minor one. We still need oil and gas to supply fuel for planes and ships and chemical plants for the raw mateials needed by the manufacturing industry.

Instead of nuclear currently supplying 20% of the US' electricity needs, we need to bring it up to 70-80% and do it quickly. We will need to build 150 to 250 nuclear powered plants by 2030. If research is restarted in 2009 (massive "Manhattan"  scale program) and succeed in 5 years, by 2019 half of the plants could be fast breeder reactors type.

The other day France announced that they are building a new nuclear plant of the latest design and will complete it by 2012. If they can do it in 4 years, why can't we?

I'm with you on this one, Ig

We need legislature to halt the ridiculous roadblocks in the permitting process, consult with the French (oops - there goes the Halliburton hegemony meme, eh?) and start building those safe nuclear plants immediately. 

At the same time, we also need to drill here, now.  As Larry Kudlow put it, we must "build an energy portfolio" of all possible and avaiable resources, with the goal of reducing emission producing resources over as brief a time as possible.  And like the French, we can export this technology to India and China because - let's face it, Ig - without those developing countries coming on board, we can reduce our emissions all we want but the world is still going to hell in a handbasket.  Unless of course all the respected scientists are wrong and it turns out that water vapor is as big a culprit in climate change as CO2.  But hey - that's another topic for another day.  I'm still with ya on this one, brother.