Rove: The 'Where's the Beef' Strategy, and Beyond

There's another fascinating op-ed in the Wall Street Journal this morning by Karl Rove on the next steps that John McCain should take in his battle against Barack Obama: What McCain Should Do Next. In it, Rove expounds on the growing belief about Obama that "there's no 'there' there".

Mr. McCain was correct to seize on Mr. Obama's insinuations that the GOP would mount racist attacks against him. Now Mr. McCain needs to find ways to describe an Obama who is running on empty rhetoric. He needs to do to Mr. Obama what Walter Mondale did to Gary "Where's the Beef?" Hart in the 1984 Democratic primaries. Given Mr. Obama's thin résumé and accomplishments, this can be done, with a sustained effort.

As McCain is doing that, Rove suggests that the Republican candidate also focus on bold domestic policy proposals and issues. Doing this in concert with questioning Obama's rhetoric and accomplishments seems to be a great one-two punch. As thin-skinned as Obama and his campaign seem to be, this will easily put them on the defensive, and they'll be furiously attempting to refute the accusation that the candidate is an empty suit, devoid of any accomplishments and experience.

But the only way they will be able to do that will be by trying to change the topic -- charging racism, that McCain is "Bush the 3rd", decrying the negative campaigning, etc. However, there's only so many ways that Barack Obama can whine about John McCain promising more of the "failed policies of the past" without providing something of more substance himself. It seems that people are tiring of those tactics from the Obama campaign - and they're getting tired of the coverage of Barack Obama, period.

That McCain will be, at the same time, prescribing specific policy proposals, and describing how his personal experiences has led him to believe that certain policies will work, will only serve to highlight Obama's rhetorical emptiness.

Barack Obama has gotten this far solely on being an attractive, oratorically gifted candidate. In 1980, the Democrats were fond of saying that a similarly (actually more) gifted Republican, Ronald Reagan, was also just an empty suit. But Reagan, in addition to having the right ideas behind him, also had significant leadership experience from his time as Governor of California. From that experience, he grew to know what would work and what wouldn't. He learned from his experiences, and it showed.

The American public recognized that in addition to being able to convey his very well thought out conservative messages positively, Reagan also had the experience of putting his ideas to work in a governing setting. Obama doesn't. He's a marvelously gifted speaker, but his experience in government - in leadership - is sorely lacking. He's an empty slate. From Obama's maneuvering so far this election season, no one - including a growing number of his supporters - knows what he believes in and how he would govern.

The more John McCain focuses on that, while at the same time focusing on policy proposals based on his familiarity with issues and his experiences in dealing with them, the more vacuous Obama will seem.

Rove closes with the observation that McCain has gotten this far, in a year when Obama should be out in front by a huge margin, by running an "unscripted guerrilla campaign" - but now the Republican candidate needs to do more. Obama should be ahead by at least 10 or 15 points because of the mood of the country - he should be piling another 10 points on top of that because of the superiority of his campaign organization. He's not - and Barack Obama is beatable - because there is no "there" there. McCain needs to take advantage of that by getting his campaign apparatus in gear, immediately.

The Republican Convention is going to be crucial for John McCain. September is the month when the average voter starts really paying attention to political races. It seems that Obama will be heading into that month with a significant amount of Obama fatigue already set in, thanks to himself and his adoring and sycophantic media.

There is no such "fatigue" with McCain. People know that he's a hero, know that he's experienced, and know (despite Obama's claims about "Bush the 3rd") that during this decade he became famous and admired for being the "anti-Bush" in the Republican Party. And, as that recent poll found, "Pew's respondents said they want to hear more, not less about the Republican candidate".

If the McCain campaign does a good job during the convention, along the lines that Rove has suggested, the Republican candidate should be in a very good position on November 4th, 2008.