McCain, GOP unleash anti-Obama plan
|Republicans might have a reason to smile: John McCain and his allies seem to have finally settled on a way to draw a stark contrast with Barack Obama.
After weeks of criticism from Republicans about the leisurely pace at which they seemed to be preparing for the general election, McCain’s campaign has apparently settled on a highly personal campaign theme that aims to differentiate McCain and Obama on both character and issues.
The strategy: Paint Obama as conventional politician who always takes the safe and easy political road, then amplify the distinction by framing McCain as a patriot, somebody who has put sacrifice above self.
It’s seemingly an effort by McCain to remind voters of his Vietnam-era heroism and compelling life story while touching on key issues to avoid running purely on biography. The message also is designed to underline McCain’s unique record of service to his country without touching on subterranean questions about Obama’s patriotism.
Whether it will work — or if the famously improvisational McCain will even stick to it — is an open question.
But it is finally clear that McCain and many of his allies — including Karl Rove and Mitt Romney — are finally working in unison to push one message, and push it aggressively.
In a memo sent to reporters Thursday morning headlined, “Country First Vs. Self-Serving Partisanship,” McCain senior adviser Steve Schmidt traces an unbroken line from the physical courage McCain demonstrated in the Hanoi Hilton to the political bravery his supporters say he demonstrated on Capitol Hill.
“When John McCain was offered early release as a prisoner of war, he refused, subjecting himself to torture rather than give a propaganda victory to his captors,” Schmidt writes. “Is it any wonder that during the Republican primary, John McCain was working with Democrats and talking about the need for comprehensive immigration reform?”
Obama, Schmidt contends, has never picked the harder right over the easier wrong.
“In his time on the national stage, he has consistently put his party and his self-interest first,” he writes, citing energy and Iraq as two issues where Obama is constrained by the base of his own party.
Schmidt also seeks to use the same self-interest frame to bruise Obama for his decision to reverse course on taking public funding to finance his campaign and for not being willing to engage McCain in multiple town hall meetings.
The Obama campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
There is also an element of triangulation in the new theme, a recognition that McCain needs to set him apart from a toxic Republican administration and the political status quo.
To this end, Schmidt seeks to rebut the consistent Democratic effort to fuse McCain and President Bush by suggesting that it’s not just Bush but Washington that is broken.
The country’s political challenges aren’t due to “a Republican administration that has disappointed many or a Democratic Congress that cannot take action on the challenges facing our nation,” Schmidt writes. “The problem is that politicians in Washington are working for their own self-interest or that of their party.”
Schmidt, who is taking on a broader portfolio in the campaign and has returned from the trail to work at headquarters full time, developed the theme, according to campaign sources, and it has been quickly accepted as the new line.
McCain, who rarely discusses what is perhaps the most compelling element of his biography, used the new language twice on Tuesday to bring up his refusal to take early release in Vietnam.
“When I was offered a chance to go home early from prison camp in Vietnam, I put my country first,” McCain said on a conference call Tuesday night with independent and Democratic voters in South Florida. “And I’ve been doing that ever since.”
He said much the same later that night at a fundraiser in Newport Beach, Calif.
Also picking up the theme Thursday were Rove and Romney.
Rove used his regular perch on the Wall Street Journal opinion page to openly press the patriotism issue. “In a contest over who is willing to put principle above personal ambition and self-interest, John McCain, a war hero and a former POW, wins hands down,” Rove wrote.
In a clear sign of the desire of McCain’s campaign to drive this message, Romney, who has emerged as one of McCain’s most frequent and on-message surrogates, appeared on three television morning shows to make the case.
“He has consistently voted with his party on the most partisan issues and put his party and personal interests ahead of those of the nation,” Romney said of Obama on CNN’s “American Morning.” “I think [he’s] been unable during his career at any time to reach across the aisle, find compromise, find ways to get things done other than simply toeing the party line.”