Posted by: mutantpoodle | October 25, 2008

Block that Metaphor!

[1973 Belmont Stakes]

Amidst the gutter sniping amongst the McCain unfaithful, Mark McKinnon weighs in with a piece pointing out, correctly, that genius and idiocy are applied, after the fact, to the winning and losing Presidential campaigns, respectively.

McKinnon, you may recall, was a McCain advisor who chose to bow out of the fall election campaign because he knew that winning would involve tearing Barack Obama down, and he didn’t want any part of that.

Noble enough. But there’s a part of his apologia for the Rick Davis/Steve Schmidt campaign that simply doesn’t ring true:

I know and have worked with Obama’s lead adviser David Axelrod, and he’s as smart as anyone I’ve worked with in politics and deserves a lot of credit for a well-run campaign. But I know he’d be the first to admit that he just had the good judgment to saddle up on Secretariat.

I also know and have worked with McCain’s guru Steve Schmidt, who is also one of the most talented players in the game. He just saddled up on Seabiscuit. But he’s running against Secretariat. And only one great horse gets to win.

Really. John McCain is Seabiscuit?

I think that McCain is, in fact, the guy who had the best chance of winning in a very bad year for Republicans. And I think, quite frankly, the notion that “…Steve Schmidt and his colleagues have run a very good campaign and have taken McCain further than he had any reasonable right to, given the political climate” is, um, wrong. McCain had a brand as a Republican who was not tethered to rigid orthodoxy (he lost some of that during the primaries, but he had wrapped the nomination up early enough to tack back to the center), and has, step by step, dismantled said brand.

So let’s look back. Did John McCain…

  • …run an “honorable” campaign?
  • …hammer his experience advantage throughout the campaign, contrasting it with Obama’s light resume?
  • …demonstrate the calming effect of experience and gravitas?
  • …maintain his image as an open, accessible candidate throughout the campaign?
  • …demonstrate sound and sober judgment in selecting a VP candidate, given his age and medical history?

The answer to all of those, of course, is no. In an earlier post, I went into this in more detail. Fundamentally, the McCain campaign never had a strategy; they didn’t have a set of policies to sell to the American people that weren’t easy to peg as a Bush continuum, and, of course, they severely underestimated Barack Obama.

McKinnon is correct, of course, that the McCain campaign got their candidate a lead coming out of the Republican convention. But (again, as I said before) that lead was borrowed and the vig was incredibly high. The first payment came due to Charlie Gibson, and then between McCain’s campaign “suspension” and the Palin-Couric interview, the rest came due.

Anyway, it is a disservice to Seabiscuit to compare him to John McCain. John McCain, in the 2008 incarnation, is not a great candidate, and neither did his handlers run a “very good” campaign. He beat a weak field to get his party’s nomination, and then severely underestimated his opponent.

Barack Obama can still lose this thing, but it’s hard to imagine that happening without a major mistake on his part, and while that could happen, I’d have to say that given his recent history, that’s not the way to bet.

Here’s hoping, instead, that the Secretariat comparison holds.

UPDATE: Atrios agrees:

I actually don’t agree that McCain is somehow largely just a victim of circumstances. Leaving aside very recent history, he chose to be a Bush loving conservative instead of Mr. Bipartisan McMaverick or otherwise running against Bush. By Fall of 2005, it didn’t take a genius to see that people were really getting a bit fed up with this bunch of clowns. If it wasn’t clear then, it became clear in the November ’06 election. If it wasn’t clear then, it became clear after Bush was sub-40 in the polls for like 3000 months straight. Yes I know that McCain had to win the Republican primary, but even after that he didn’t make much effort to pivot. And by that time even Republicans were beginning to hate Bush!

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