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Thursday, July 31, 2008

McCain's Theme Problem

John McCain, like any other candidate for President, must accomplish quite a lot in a relatively short period of time. He has to try and set the tone of debate, define himself, and his opponent. As such, supporters of McCain are quite frustrated since he can't seem to do any of it with any success right now. Theme, to me at least, is the most important thing in any campaign. Theme is the reason that a voter votes for a candidate. Obama figured out theme right away and he has hammered at the concepts of change, unity, and a new direction. McCain, on the other hand, still hasn't clearly communicated to voters why they should vote for him.

I think supporters of McCain should be extra frustrated because in many ways McCain is a remarkable politician and persona and he has a platform that should give all sorts of voters a reason to vote, but he can't seem to verbalize his platform in a way that is understandable. If I were McCain, I would have a five plank platform and begin hammering away at each plank and define the campaign through it.

1) Aggressive GWOT policy that finishes the job in EVERY theater we are in. This needs to be the leading point of his campaign. McCain is most comfortable on national security issues and during war time McCain needs to point out that war always comes first. McCain has gotten himself stuck debating the surge. It maybe natural for him to point out just how successful a policy he was lonely in supporting worked out, but ultimately voters aren't voting on the past but on the future. Rather, if I were McCain's campaign, I will build the theme on finishing the job in Iraq and Afghanistan. I would build my theme on the idea that the only way to confront Iran peacefully is to win in each theater. While Obama wants to get out of Iraq as soon as possible and then negotiate with Iran, that is a negotiation out of weakness. I would build the theme around the idea that victory is the only thing that matters in war. Whatever anyone thought about Iraq, now is the time for victory. Timetables are the concepts of defeatists.

Furthermore, the same kind of turnaround we had in Iraq can be applied to Afghanistan by shifting strategies to counter insurgency. It's time for McCain to point out why we are winning in Iraq in detail and apply those concepts to Afghanistan.

On foreign policy, this election must be about victory or defeat.

2) The economy

Here, McCain has plenty to work with if he would only get out to the American people and verbalize it. Free markets, lower taxes, and less spending. People say he needs to move away from Bush and he can. He was the lone voice while the Republican Congress went on a spending spree. He needs to hammer away at the excesses that the Republican Congress wraught, and how they contributed to the malaise. Then, he needs to lay out how a McCain Presidency would be different. The fiscal conservatives would welcome McCain's criticism on spending as this is what turned them off in 2006. Then, McCain needs to combine the ideas of less spending with lower taxes and free markets. The other side wants to spend more, regulate more, and tax more and Obama then has the chutzpah to proclaim this is some new and novel concept. This economic debate must come down to free markets or regulation, low taxes or high taxes, less spending or more spending. McCain can and should run away from Bush on the economy, and that's because Bush contributed to out of control spending. That said, he can't run away from free markets and low taxes just because Barack Obama may try and proclaim that is Bush III.

3) Judges.

Here, McCain has an opportunity to turn a marginal issue in a general election into a real positive. That's because he has clearly defined the sort of judge he wants. Barack Obama, on the other hand, has a very peculiar.

Ninety-five percent of the time the law is so clear that it's just a matter of applying the law. I'm not somebody who believes in a bunch of judicial law-making.

What you're looking for is somebody who is going to apply the law where it's clear. Now there's gonna be those five percent of cases or one percent of cases where the law isn't clear. And the judge has to then bring in his or her own perspectives, his ethics, his or her moral bearings. And In those circumstance what I do want is a judge who is sympathetic enough to those who are on the outside, those who are vulnerable, those who are powerless, those who can't have access to political power and as a consequence can't protect themselves from being being dealt with sometimes unfairly, that the courts become a refuge for justice. That's been its historic role. That was its role in Brown v Board of Education.

Wanting a judge that is sympathetic to the little guy is rather nebulous and open to interpretation. McCain wants a strict constructionist, a judge that reads the Constitution as it is and interprets the law based on what the Constitution actually says. This is clearly defined and easy to explain. Try and explain how a Supreme Court justice should rule based on sympathy for the little guy. McCain has the reasonable, logical, and easy to explain position. The Supreme Court has always been a side issue in the general election, and that is a shame. Supreme Court justices are the most lasting legacy of any President. McCain can make it an issue by talking more about it. If he makes appointing strict constructionists one of his themes, that will in and of itself make the Supreme Court a more relevant issue. The issue is there, but he needs to grab hold of it.

4) Energy Independence

This may wind up being the most important issue depending on what gas prices look like in a few months. This issue appears to be working for Republicans. It must become more than merely drilling which has become a good issue for McCain and Republicans as well. McCain has laid out bits and pieces but for now, I don't see a coherent strategy. He likes nuclear power, but I don't understand how he plans on making it marketable on a mass scale. (I have proposed a moratorium on all taxes related to alternative energy) He needs to have a plan that goes beyond rhetoric and platitudes and is transformed into something the public can imagine working. The public can see domestic drilling dropping the price of oil and that's why this issue works for Republicans. The public wants a long term plan that makes us energy independent and neither side has give that.

5) Attacking illegal immigration

Yes, if he makes this a campaign platform, it will be dicey. Of course, Barack Obama will try and demonize the issue. He will likely call him a flip flopper. So what? The public is overwhelmingly against illegal immigration. McCain lost when he tried to bring "comprehensive reform". Multiple times he has said that he has learned from the experience. Well as GI Joe once said, "Now you know but knowing is half the battle". He needs to take this knowledge and formulate a strong, cohesive policy that will attack illegal immigration. He needs a plan that builds the wall by the end of his first year. He needs to come out for putting fifty thousand National Guard troops on the border. Finally, he should come out publicly in support of the SAVE Act, the bill that will streamline employment verification so that all employers will eventually be able to easily confirm that potential and current employees are here legally.

Let Barack Obama stand up for the DREAM Act, driver's licenses for illegals, and all sorts of other open borders policies. John McCain needs to stand up for border enforcement. He can have credibility on this issue if he frames it right. He tried comprehensive reform. The voters overwhelmingly said no. They want border enforcement. He is listening to them and that is what he will bring in his first term.

By making this five planks the theme of his campaign, McCain can give voters plenty of reason to vote for him, not merely to vote against Obama.


Jay said...

you make a really good point when you talk about the concept of a campaign theme. Being a McCain supporter (and being a 16 year old one) I frequently get into spontaneous debates about the election. I always make it a point to ask why they support Obama, and it infuriates me when they reply with something along the lines of "he stands for hope" or "change we can beleive in," or simply "I can trust him." Obama and his campaign staff have done a tremendous job defining the candidate, and I think McCain really needs to define himself accordingly, before it's too late.

Anonymous said...

I hope his campaign reads this.