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25 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
09:45 am

Has Steve Schmidt Run out of Ideas? (#2 of 2)

Is McCain’s attack messaging machine grinding to a halt?  Steve Schmidt, McCain’s new guru, has been on a roll lately, but those days may be coming to an end.  Earlier today, we looked at the events of the past few days and how the McCain campaign has responded.

Now let’s examine how these responses fit into Schmidt’s broader strategy.

Over the past few weeks, the mainstream media have embraced Schmidt as the newest political genius, crediting him with bringing new message discipline to the campaign and boosting McCain in the polls.  Perhaps the best example is a glowing profile by Lois Romano that ran in Thursday’s Washington Post-dated.  Romano even scored a quote from Schmidt’s political mentor, Karl Rove:

“Since the changes, things are happening,” observes Karl Rove, architect of George W. Bush’s presidential races. “A guy who’d been in and out of the campaign for months told me he quickly saw a new crispness and order to the operation. He knew it when he walked in one day and there was a large calendar with daily message points plotted for several weeks — a sign of strategic thinking that hadn’t been so evident before.

Like Rove, Schmidt knows how to attack an opponent’s strength and turn it into a weakness.  His “celebrity” attacks clearly had a bigger impact on the race than Democrats expected — not swiftboat-caliber damage, but significant nonetheless.

The ads hammer home two key messages:  that Obama is more concerned with celebrity than leadership, and that he is not ready to lead. Schmidt also has McCain reinforce these themes in campaign appearances — most infamously when he said that Obama would be willing to lose the war to win the election.

It’s an effective strategy, helping to narrow significantly the gap between the two candidates.  But it’s not yet clear whether it will have any lasting impact on the race.  The celebrity meme clearly is not as effective as similar attacks in the past, and there’s already evidence that people are tuning out.  To put it another way, associating Obama with Britney is proving to have a far shorter shelf life than swiftboating or flip-flops.

Despite that — and despite the fact that the ads have also driven up McCain’s own negatives — Schmidt clearly thinks they’re working:  over the past three weeks, the campaign has put out three four five variations on the celebrity theme: “Celeb” “The One,” “Painful,” “Fan Club,” and just the other day, the (unintentionally) hilariously named “The One II.”

You could interpret this as message discipline, but there’s also another, equally plausible way to look at it:  Steve Schmidt has run out of ideas.

The entire McCain messaging operation is now built around the celebrity ads. Yes, there are other commercials, but they use older themes that the campaign adopted long before Schmidt took control:  the more positive,biographical clips and the “look who has criticized Obama and/or praised McCain” ads.  Neither has proven effective.

So Schmidt may be capable, but it looks like he’s also a one-trick pony. “Celebrity” is the only message that has worked.  So the campaign has started using it over and over and over again, to a point where no one is paying attention anymore.  And as any advertising expert can tell you, the only thing worse than an underperforming brand is an overexposed one.

The reality is that message discipline does not necessarily translate into adaptability or agility.  Schmidt may be focused, but he has not yet demonstrated the capacity to develop smart, effective ads that respond effectively to breaking events.  Yes, he and his team produced three ads in roughly 36 hours, but none of them have resonated.  And perhaps more importantly, none have managed to reverse the shift in momentum brought on by Estategate and Biden.

Schmidt still has time, and it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that Obama may give him the ammunition he needs to put his candidate in the White House.  But if this is all he has — if there really is no second act, then McCain may discover that Schmidt’s greatest strength — message discipline — may also be a weakness that the Obama campaign will be able to exploit to its considerable advantage.

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13 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
03:40 pm

McCain: “Negative? Bah Humbug.”

In an interview today with NPR’s Renee Montagne, presumptive Republican nominee Grumpy McGrumperson John McCain denied that he’s running a negative campaign:

MONTAGNE:  So, to move on to domestic questions, Steve Schmidt, who is running your campaign, has said something kind of simple and understandable. He said that a campaign needs one positive message about its candidate and then one good, strong negative message about the opponent. Your camp —

McCAIN: I never heard that statement, and I’d have to know who attributed it to him before I would agree with that. We’re not sending any negative message in our campaign. We’re drawing differences in positions between myself and Sen. Obama, which are significant. He wants to raise taxes; I want to keep them low. He doesn’t want to drill offshore or have nuclear power; I want both. I’ve never heard Steve Schmidt say we need a negative message in the campaign.

MONTAGNE:  I’m quoting The Wall Street Journal here.

McCAIN: I’ve run many, many campaigns, and I have never believed that we need a strong negative message. And I’ve been in –-

MONTAGNE:  However, do you not consider it a negative message, though, when a campaign ad goes on TV that blames your opponent, Barack Obama, for high gas prices or –-

McCAIN: I believe strongly that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. And he voted for the energy bill that had all kind of tax breaks and giveaways for the oil companies. I believe if you’re not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. And it’s a big problem in America today.

MONTAGNE:  And are you comfortable with ads where your opponent is being compared to Paris Hilton?

McCAIN: I’m very comfortable with my campaign. And I strongly recommend that people who don’t find humor in that relax, turn off the computer and go on it and get some fresh air and try to regain some —

MONTAGNE:  Well, Paris Hilton found some humor in it.

McCAIN: Yeah, sure.

He’s not negative, he’s grumpy!  And apparently when it comes to the Paris Hilton response ad, McCain can’t even take his own advice and “relax, turn off the computer and. . .get some fresh air.”

Of course, in the case of John McCain, he never learned how to turn on the computer, so it really shouldn’t be a problem.

Photo:  Via sloomis08, using a Creative Commons license.

Hat tip:  Matt DeLong at Washington Independent

| posted in media, politics, pop culture | 0 Comments

13 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
08:45 am

Maybe McCain Should Have Named His Daughter Britney

We’ve heard from McCain, Obama, and Paris, but what about the fourth figure in this ongoing melodrama?  Where is Britney?

Finally, we have her response.  Well kinda sorta almost:


Hat tip:  Video creator Jonp72

| posted in media, politics, pop culture | 0 Comments

9 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
12:55 pm

McSame As It Ever Was

So as I’ve noted, we’re in Michigan right now, and Molly, her mom, and I were watching the 11 o’clock news last night to learn the latest about Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who manages to get himself indicted, arrested, or jailed about every other day.  Then the commercials come on, and lo and behold, there’s that wrinkly white-haired guy’s Britney-Paris-Barack ad.

So even after all the mockery, the negative press, and the Paris response video, the McCain campaign is still running the ad.  It’s what, two years since the Berlin speech.  Do most Americans even remember that Obama went overseas at this point?

Did the ad buy predate the controversy?  Or are they that clueless?

Or Buddha forbid, does their research show it’s actually working?

| posted in foreign policy, media, politics, pop culture | 0 Comments

7 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
04:30 pm

Things Have Come to This…

Yes, it was parody.  And no, I don’t agree with everything she proposes in her spoof campaign ad — for example, I’m not convinced offshore drilling is either environmentally or economically feasible.

But am I the only one who thinks that Paris Hilton’s compromise energy plan makes a lot more sense than those espoused by either candidate?  At least it moves beyond the gotcha politics that both sides are pursuing so diligently right now and tries to come up with a real solution.

So what does that say about our politics that parody makes more sense than reality?


| posted in foreign policy, politics | 2 Comments

6 August 2008 Charles J. Brown
06:45 am

Paris Hilton Responds to John McCain

Oh My Gawd this is like, so totally awesome:

If you had told me at the beginning of this campaign that Paris Hilton would play a role, I would have wept for America.  But I give her points for a pretty good sense of humor about the whole thing.  And it doesn’t hurt that she makes McCain look like an old twit.  Kudos to Funny or Die for making this happen.

And if she won, it would be, like, so cool.  I mean I would, like, so TOTALLY freak out.

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30 July 2008 Charles J. Brown
05:03 pm

McCain, Britney, American Idol & FOREIGN Oil

Here’s the new McCain commercial.

Britney, Paris… and Obama???  Oh no you din’t, John McCain!  Snap!

Clearly, McCain’s campaign team has concluded that popularity and celebrity are negatives that they can exploit.  Because you know, Presidents aren’t “popularly” elected or anything.  That’s what the electoral college is for!

This is just further proof of how disconnected the McCain campaign is.  Do they not realize that people in this country love celebrity and popularity contests?  Do they not read People?  Have they never watched American Idol?  Are they even aware of it?  It’s on Fox, people.  It’s not like you would have to change channels or anything.

But something else about this ad bothers me a whole lot more than the constant whinging about Obama’s popularity.  Watch the commercial again; let it play until the 0:23 mark and then freeze the image.

See how the word “foreign” is in bold and caps?  See how close it is to Obama’s image?  Yes, the word “oil” is there too, but… do you really think that putting that particular word right next to Obama’s image was accidental?

John McCain apparently has decided that his best path to victory is to adopt strategies last used when Millard Fillmore ran on the Know-Nothing Party ticket in 1854.  Perhaps McCain has fond memories of that election from his childhood.

John McCain:  The American President nativists have been waiting for.   And Idol fans haven’t.

Image from Wikipedia, used under a GNU Free Documentation License.

UPDATE: It’s my understanding that this is the first time ever that Millard Fillmore and Britney Spears have been linked romantically.

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