May 8, 2008
A Fight Strategy for McCainBy Lee Cary
McCain's three-legged campaign strategy may be emerging. It's one that can lead him to victory in November. Think of it as the stool in his corner of the ring.
The first leg is built on a McCain tactic that puzzles some Republicans. He goes to great lengths to play nice with his Democratic opponents and aims to project the image of a gentlemanly campaigner who won't stoop to throwing low blows.
That leaves him positioned to throw another kind of punch -- a counterpunch. And he'll have plenty of opportunity to counterpunch when Obama repeatedly throws the "Bush Third Term" (BTT) roundhouse.
So far, McCain has not effectively countered the BTT. Why not? Because it's too early. The main bout hasn't started. We're still in the prelim contest, albeit its later rounds.
When the bell rings for the main bout, Obama, already warming up for McCain, will come out throwing the BTT punch early and often. It will be prefaced by a feint and the eraser word "but:" a word that erases everything positive said before it. It sounds like this:
McCain has, and can, take a few BTT punches without responding. But soon he'll need to deliver his own feint and counterpunch, or two.
That's the first leg of McCain's strategy -- block and counterpunch the BTT swing -- Obama's main punch.
McCain has already begun incrementally constructing the second leg by positioning himself as neither a Reagan conservative nor a neocon (if there is such a thing). McCain enters the ring as something new -- a McCain Conservative. His most recent speech on judges was another step in the direction of defining himself, with more topics likely to be addressed during the final stages of the Democratic prelim bout. They don't get much media attention, but they do help McCain prepare for the main fight.
McCain should have no difficulty describing Obama as a classic, big-government liberal. When the Democratic prelim ends, the MSM will finally have opposing positions to compare, although they will predictably favor Obama's. Fatigued by the longest image-based political campaign in the history of the planet, voters may be hungry to finally hear a political debate with substance. We can hope, anyway.
McCain has already begun differentiating himself from Obama whose campaign promises, made in speeches and official campaign documents, offer a target-rich environment for critical examination. McCain has ample time to methodically strip away the veneer of Obama's glib slogans to reveal what an Obama administration would look like in contrast to his own.
Most of Obama's policy jabs can be blocked. For example, when Obama accuses McCain of changing his position on the "Bush Tax Cuts," McCain can say,
So the second leg of the McCain's fight strategy involves methodical jabs at comparing-and-contrasting himself to Obama. His challenge is to swing with forceful, factual and clear language that cumulatively portrays Obama for what he is: an old-style, classic liberal who believes in the same, failed, big-government policies, plus more of the same.
Obama will resist being tagged with the "L" word. But McCain doesn't need to use the word very often. All he has to do is describe the choice on the November ballot.
The third leg of the McCain's strategy is built on another of his past behaviors that aggrevate some Republicans. He has collaborated with Democrats in the U.S. Senate. Obama, on the other hand, has no substantial track record of accomplishment in the Senate at all, let along one working across party lines.
Once upon a time, a presidential candidate used the phrase "Where's the beef" to his argumentative advantage. When Obama talks change based on bringing people together, McCain can say,
When Obama alludes to his record in the Illinois legislature, he typically moves past that topic with little elaboration. As well he should. If Obama listed his accomplishments as an Illinois legislator he'd sound like a minor league pitcher, recently promoted to the majors, bragging about his Double A record. Not since the TV comedian Pat Paulsen (may he rest in peace) ran for the presidency has a candidate had less of a past performance track record to tout.
Obama cites vague success at getting people to work together on Chicago's South Side. But if that was a significant qualification to become president, we'd have tens of thousands of social workers qualified for the Oval office.
On the other hand, McCain is muscled-up to cite a major league record of bipartisan activism. While those examples will grate on those Republicans who have frowned on McCain's forays across the Senate aisle, they will illuminate Obama's claim of being a change agent in its true light -- which is nearly complete darkness. (This counterpunch was thrown by the McCain campaign on May 8, the day after the Indiana-North Carolina primaries.)
So, McCain's One-Two-Three fight strategy is this: (1) Counterpunch Obama's BTT swing; (2) Define himself as his own brand of conservative; and, (3) Tout his credentials as an experienced bipartisan change-agent in the U.S. Senate. Now...
Let's get ready to rummmmmmblllee.