Illustration for article titled Finally: The emNY Times/em Post-Mortem On The Still-Breathing McCain Campaign

Readers of this weekend's New York Times Magazine might be forgiven if, upon reading Robert Draper's cover story on the McCain campaign, they check their calendars to make sure they didn't miss voting in the 2008 Presidential election. It reads more like an evisceration of a failed Presidential campaign than an exploration of the tactics-not-strategy of a struggling campaign. Well, if nothing else Steve Schmidt will have yet another reason to call the Times "an organization that is completely, totally 150 percent in the tank for the Democratic candidate"!Draper's piece — in which he quotes staff mostly off the record — gives all the credit blame to campaign top dogs Rick Davis and Steve Schmidt for the Palin pick, and does little to counter the impression that she was thoroughly vetted. Davis picked her out of a hat having met her once, convinced Schmidt and then speechwriter Mark Salter and finally John McCain, who'd only met her once and certainly had not been following her career as he's since claimed. It doesn't address the speculation that McCain really, really wanted Lieberman and Schmidt had to talk him out of it — though it does mention that Lindsay Graham was a big fan. It does however, quote Davis saying that they picked her in no small part because she would look good on a magazine cover — and that everyone recognized that she wasn't exactly solidly grounded in any policy issues.

Reviewing the tape, it didn’t concern Davis that Palin seemed out of her depth on health-care issues or that, when asked to name her favorite candidate among the Republican field, she said, “I’m undecided.” What he liked was how she stuck to her pet issues — energy independence and ethics reform — and thereby refused to let Rose manage the interview. This was the case throughout all of the Palin footage. Consistency. Confidence. And . . . well, look at her. A friend had said to Davis: “The way you pick a vice president is, you get a frame of Time magazine, and you put the pictures of the people in that frame. You look at who fits that frame best — that’s your V. P.” Schmidt, to whom Davis quietly supplied the Palin footage, agreed. Neither man apparently saw her lack of familiarity with major national or international issues as a serious liability. Instead, well before McCain made his selection, his chief strategist and his campaign manager both concluded that Sarah Palin would be the most dynamic pick.


While her inexperience and unfamiliarity didn't affect the top staffers, there were others who, even savoring the nomination, had concerns.

The following night, after McCain’s speech brought the convention to a close, one of the campaign’s senior advisers stayed up late at the Hilton bar savoring the triumphant narrative arc. I asked him a rather basic question: “Leaving aside her actual experience, do you know how informed Governor Palin is about the issues of the day?” The senior adviser thought for a moment. Then he looked up from his beer. “No,” he said quietly. “I don’t know.”

It might not be the harshest indictment we've heard of Sarah Palin, but even the people vetting her didn't think she was grounded in the issues of importance as much as she made a good symbolic figurehead. Feminist choice, my ass. The other major issue that the piece throws into sharp relief is how much the campaign has lacked in a singular narrative focus this year.

And yet on this landscape of new tricks — calling your opponent a liar; allowing your running mate to imply that the opponent might prefer terrorists over Americans — McCain sometimes seemed to be running against not only Barack Obama but an earlier version of himself.


McCain's a maverick, but he's the kind of guy who can get everyone to the table and fix the financial crisis; Obama's an inexperienced celebrity, and they picked an inexperienced celebrity as a running mate; John McCain hates negative campaigning but Obama was asking for it. McCain's campaign really has had my head (for one) whipping from side-to-side as it changes tactics and narratives every time it suffers a 1-point drop in the polls. The reason independent voters and the press liked McCain in 2000 was because he was supposed to be above all this petty politicking that he's subsequently engaged in. The problem is that McCain may — or may not — place his country first, but his campaign has certainly put winning before showing the American people the truth of that. The Making (And Remaking And Remaking) Of McCain [New York Times] Related: Who Knows Strategy V. Tactics? McCain Or Obama? And Where Is McCain's Flag Lapel Pin? [Huffington Post] Team McCain Rips NYT [Politico] Conservative Ire Pushed McCain From Lieberman [New York Times]

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