How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

It appears increasingly likely that the primary season will go all the way to the convention in late August (which, if history is any guide, will be really bad), leaving the Democratic party a scant two and a half months to go full-out hammering away at John McCain and the Republican party. Perhaps it's time to start redirecting our attention.

While the outcome of the primary is important, and there are real differences between Obama and Clinton, I'd like to see Democrats coming out hard against McCain. We've got money, media, and the Internet on our side (sometimes), so let's not use all of our firepower shooting at each other.

With that in mind, what kinds of attacks might work against John McCain? With only a short period of time between the end of the convention and Election Day, Democrats won't have the luxury of trying out many lines of attack and seeing what sticks - as they have been able to do during the primary. It is important that we are ready to go after McCain full-tilt on August 29th, and that we're going to battle with the right ammunition.

A few various lines of attack have been floating around the media and blogosphere lately. As a quick sample, here are a few:

  • John McCain as old and unstable
  • John McCain as angry, with a temper, a hothead
  • John McCain as a war hawk who'll keep us in Iraq forever
  • John McCain as confused and unprepared (can't tell the difference between Iran and Al-Qaeda for instance)
  • John McCain as weak and unprepared on economic issues
  • John McCain and his association with radical fundamentalist pastors like John Hagee
  • John McCain as a flip-flopper or sellout

My personal favorites are McCain as old and unstable, a war hawk, and weak on the economy. But will these attacks stick?

A very crude but interesting way to decide on the best offense is to examine what lines of attack people are already searching for online. If people are already searching for certain phrases or attacks, it means these memes have already wormed their way into popular society; the more people searching for the line, the more effective it might be.

Google provides a service called Google Trends where you can measure this very phenomenon. A quick look into some popular McCain attacks points towards the right path we should take when going after him, and a quick comparison with some likely attacks by the GOP on Democrats points to strengths and weaknesses in our own strategy.

First, a quick comparison of McCain attacks: This is a relative graph of how many people are searching for the terms "McCain old,""McCain economy,""McCain Iraq," and "McCain Hagee" in the last year.


As you can see, many more people are searching for "McCain old" and "McCain Iraq" than the others. These lines of attack are more integrated into our social fabric than the others. To me, this means they are potentially more likely to be effective.

For comparison, let's look at the keywords "McCain old" vs. a likely line of attack against Barack Obama and his alleged lack of experience:


As you can see, though the "Obama experience" meme is being searched for, "McCain old" is consistantly much more popular. The attack against Obama's perceived lack of experience doesn't seem to be nearly as effective, at least not right now.

As a last comparison, we'll see how our winner, "McCain old," compares to the insidious smear that Barack Obama is a Muslim:


Oh boy...that doesn't look good. Not only has the smear been searched for over a long period of time, but it outperforms our "McCain old" attack hand over fist. It's obviously impossible to say whether this smear will play a role in the general election - it's popularity has been declining steeply as of late - but either way, it's much more prevalent in general society than the idea of McCain being too old or unstable to be President.

We've clearly got our work cut out for us.

Of course, campaigns move quickly, and all of these trends can change overnight. The media, the blogosphere, and the Internet can all affect these trends one way or another. Yet, if the attack has already permeated our collective consciousness, it will be that much easier to make it into a real weapon. If the idea is already floating around in the ether, we don't have to build something from the ground up. We can latch onto the foundation that's already present, which will give us a head start in those mad months between August and November.

From this vantage point, going after McCain as old, unstable, and unfit to lead seems like the most effective thing we've got going now. Do you agree? What's your favorite attack on McCain? What seems most likely to stick?

Tags: 2008 election, John McCain (all tags)



Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

Charts don't make this scientific.  For instance, the top results for Obama muslim all disprove that line of attack.  A search count # does not indicate effectiveness.  At best, it indicates what people are checking the facts on.  McCain is old.  Obama is not Muslim.  

Plus, you left out the obvious way to attack McCain.  McCain=Bush.

by PantsB 2008-03-22 02:07PM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

I know that McCain=Bush seems like it should be a winner, but on a gut level (no high-falutin' sciency-type charts here), it doesn't stick for me.

I think the 2000 primaries were too acrimonious.  The idea that Bush and McCain hate each other is hard to overcome, I think, for the same reasons you outline -- it's probably true.  

This doesn't mean that we shouldn't push the point that McCain's policies are similar to Bush's, I just don't think that McCain=Bush will be bought on a personality level by most people.  Unfortunately, that's where elections are won or lost -- do people like the candidate and feel comfortable with him/her or not?  

That's why McCain=cranky old man is a message I feel more hopeful about.  I think it can resonate, particularly because it is true.

by Ms Bluezone 2008-03-22 02:25PM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

I like McCain = Bush, I just couldn't find good keywords to measure it. "McCain Bush" comes up with a lot of news articles about Bush endorsing McCain, so it really doesn't come with a good picture.

by J Ro 2008-03-22 02:51PM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

We have to tie him to Bush's policies, though. People will ignore cranky old man, and he's relatively charming. If you'll recall, Cheney is a cranky old man, too, but he was widely praised for his performance in his debate with John Edwards. Cranky old men often become viewed as lovable old cranks.

No, I think if we want to go in this direction, we have to go with a "McCain's brain isn't what it used to be" tactic, and use that to explain the many, many flip-flops on policy in the last few years.

by vcalzone 2008-03-22 10:36PM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

I like the idea of tying him to past policy positions that he later abandonded (tax cuts for the wealthy, torture, etc.) and then the phrase "What has happened to McCain? He is not what he used to be."  with pictures that show him as having aged across the time span of clips and pictures.

by jono 2008-03-23 06:10AM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study


Here is some more math for you: cargocult_photos/separated%20at%20birth/ mccainmorph.jpg

by cargocult 2008-03-22 04:27PM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

Until Hillary The Pig is out of the picture, Obama can't turn his full attention to McCain.

by seminole 2008-03-22 02:09PM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

When in doubt call names shame on you

by bradydundee 2008-03-22 08:27PM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

 Calling Hillary names is not exactly a good way to win friends.
by gunner 2008-03-22 08:33PM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

Why are democrats only effective at ad hominim attacks with each other?  

Why are republicans so effective at ad hominim attacks on democrats?

when will we learn?

by jono 2008-03-23 06:13AM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

McCain's spiritual adviser: /mccain-spiritual-guide-ac_n_92757.html

Good counter for incessant ravings of Wright.

Oh, and don't forget this phrase;  "..continuing the failed policies.."

It works for just about any issue.

by Setrak 2008-03-22 02:15PM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

Trouble with trying use "McCain's spiritual advisor" is that McCain doesn't do spiritual inspiration like Obama does...I don't think most people think of McCain as having a spiritual advisor, except as a liaison to the fundie community. What his connection with these people does show, though, is that rather than being a straight-talking "maverick" McCain is in fact a right-wing pander-bear.

by Alice in Florida 2008-03-22 02:58PM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

The other problem is, according to Google at least, the meme doesn't seem to be sticking.

by J Ro 2008-03-22 03:09PM | 0 recs
Er... no

Especially not if Obama is the nominee. If he is, the visual contrast will be there for all to see. No need to get the older, grayer folks all riled up and remembering how some of them have been pushed aside as "too old" or doddering, etc.

McCain may = old, but old does not = useless or incompetent.

McCain=Bush does, tho.

by Nanette K 2008-03-22 02:17PM | 0 recs
Re: Er... no

I've been thinking that, on the off chance, McCain chooses Lieberman, I want to get a bunch of T-shirts with a picture of Statler & Waldorf (the cranky old hecklers from the Muppets) with the text "McCain-Lieberman 2008" - you not capture the age, you get the negativity as well.

by mhojo 2008-03-22 03:20PM | 0 recs
Re: Er... no

I agree 100%, Attacking McCain on his age is poor strategy. Obama is not doing particurly well with seniors now and if his campaign takes this tactic, he will provide McCain with a landslide victory with this demographic.

by MOBlue 2008-03-23 07:53AM | 0 recs
Re: Er... no

I think it depends.  I'm fairly old and many of my friends are close to or at McCain's age.  Our thinking is that McCain is too old and it's time for someone newer, fresher and younger.

We don't feel like we've been pushed aside.  We are aging boomers and as such are always in style (there are so many of us after all).

Others may feel the way you describe, maybe those with less education for example.  Hard to say.

by GFORD 2008-03-23 02:43PM | 0 recs
I knew I bookmarked that blog for a reason.

by Callimaco 2008-03-22 02:18PM | 0 recs
Re: I knew I bookmarked that blog for a reason.

That's great! Bookmarked.

by J Ro 2008-03-22 02:52PM | 0 recs
The Clinton Method

"John McCain is so great! He's the best! He's better than Barack Obama and any other dem except Hillary! We're stuck in the 90s where Democrats have to be defensive!"

by Sinbad Sinbad 2008-03-22 02:22PM | 0 recs
"old" as insult is bigoted.

people McCain's age are working and helping this country as much as anyone else. to attack his age is in my view shameful.

we can do better than this.

by catchaz 2008-03-22 02:27PM | 0 recs
It didn't work against Reagan either, did it?

While some may think that "old" equates drooling imbecility, it also connotes gravitas, wisdom and reliability.  If Obama is the nominee, he will be portrayed as too "green," too untested and lacking depth.

I wouldn't attack McCain on his age which, after all, speaks for itself.  I'd attack him on his record.  There is plenty of material there to last the entire campaign.

by Radiowalla 2008-03-22 03:02PM | 0 recs
Re: "old" as insult is bigoted.

old is a metaphore for his connection to the policies of Bush and the republican agenda of concentrating wealth.  

It is not about his age, it is the choice of the future or the past.  Age typifies that better than anything else, but the message has to be framed to be successful.

the campaign will be about the future and  McCain is all about continuing the past.

It will resonate with young and new voters even as older voters recognize the need for policy changes.

by jono 2008-03-23 06:24AM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

We need to get all those stories about McCain's out-of-control temper all over the internets, front and center.  It's not so much about him being old as it is him being crotchety.  It isn't good to piss off the geriatric voting population, but "cranky old man" works because of "cranky" as much as "old."

Personally, I don't think "flip-flopper" is a good term for McCain.  It implies a lack of gravitas that I just don't think will play.  "Two-faced," or "talking out of both sides of his mouth," however, work for me.

by Ms Bluezone 2008-03-22 02:29PM | 0 recs
Iraq and the economy

Especially if we can do a good job of tying the two together.

by highgrade 2008-03-22 02:32PM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study
I think the "McCain is old" thing is really weak, since there's really nothing wrong with being old.
What we need to hit him on is the Iraq war and the draft that I am sure he will bring back should he win the presidency.
Think about it- he has said more than once that he will do "whatever it takes to win in Iraq"- to him that means bombing Iran, which means more military. After what the last 5 years have done to our military, his only option for more troops is the draft.
by skohayes 2008-03-22 02:35PM | 0 recs
My main objection to McCain

is that he is for the criminalization of abortion!  He doesn't trust American women to make their own reproductive decisions.  

He has never once voted to protect a woman's right to choose in all the years he has been in public life.  Not once.

It's the Supreme Court, Stupid!

by Radiowalla 2008-03-22 02:52PM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

I don't like McCain=old.  Older people tend to vote in larger numbers than younger people, so we shouldn't hack them off too badly. And, as our society ages, attacking someone for being "too old" seems .... tacky.

I don't think McCain=Bush will work either.  He's not Bush (I hate "McSame"), and I think his "maverick" image will make that attack ineffective.

Too ill-tempered to deal with our international problem, though, that has potential.  Bad on the economy, has tremendous potential.  Kinda psycho on Iran is good too.

And, I agree that focusing on this would be much more productive than arguing about Clinton/Obama.

by mlr701 2008-03-22 02:56PM | 0 recs
we need to start thinking about 2012...

it's getting harder and harder to see how dems win the white house this year.  we have no problem tearing ourselves apart and i suspect most democratic activists will be exhausted and demoralized by the time we choose our nominee.  i take hillary's supporters at their word that they will abandon the democratic party just to spite barack and his supporters.  some of them may even be truthful about hillary (and themselves) being closer to mccain than to barack.  regardless, it's hard to see how her supporters will vote for a democrat in 2008.

we need to start ignoring the presidential race and turn our attention to congress, which we will need to preserve a majority in order to balance the excesses of john mccain.  strengthening our majority in the senate becomes a higher priority because a republican president will hand the judiciary to his conservative base for a very, very long time.

forget this come together crap.  the democratic party is a party seriously divided between the traditional/status quo elements and those who look to the future.  and the status quo will fight to the end to preserve its power, its perks, its control of the democratic party.  obama for 2012...

by bored now 2008-03-22 03:00PM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

I don't think the online search study is a good tool for this...even though many old people use computers, the online demographic is going to skew young. In fact, the whole "McCain=Old" thing probably appeals most to those who are already Obama-fans in the first place--you don't want to be using the dKos crowd to market test your line of attack on this.

by Alice in Florida 2008-03-22 03:02PM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

     The point isn't that McCain is old. It's that he's not as sharp as he used to be. Not because he's old, but because different people age differently. Talk about the things associated with age--forgetfulness, irritability, difficulty in adjusting to changes--but not age itself. People will connect the dots on their own.

by Ron Thompson 2008-03-22 03:30PM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study


by J Ro 2008-03-22 05:10PM | 0 recs
McCain is Old?

Obama definitely has the inside track to the White House this year.  No need to be desperate.

McCain is old is a dangerous line of attack.  I can't believe you are even thinking about it.

The way to beet McCain is to keep him on economic issues and off the war.

McCain has to do two things to win in November 1) talk about the war, 2) convince a majority we can win in Iraq.  Those are both tall orders.

This year is a great year to be running on the Democrat ticket.

by dMarx 2008-03-22 03:32PM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

I think the best line of attack is to simply engage him on anything. He doesn't really HAVE plans. His perspective on the economy is more of the same, the war in Iraq is more of the same.

Take health care. Everyone rolled their eyes every Democratic debate when the requisite 15 minutes of health care minutiae got fleshed out. But think of it this way; when McCain responds it'll be so quiet you will hear CRICKETS. His "solution" is, well, not to do anything at all. Let the "Free market" work.

I don't think, considering the enthusiasm gap between the two parties, the amount of money raised, and the favorable results from 2006, that we are heading into a bad time for the Democratic party. Being optimistic seems to be supported by real substantial gains politically.

by Sean Siberio 2008-03-22 03:47PM | 0 recs
more wars fewer jobs

I think Hamsher summed this up very well

by Alice Marshall 2008-03-22 03:58PM | 0 recs
Re: more wars fewer jobs

One of my favorites, though I'm concerned the economic argument isn't as effective as we think it is...

by J Ro 2008-03-22 05:11PM | 0 recs
Anti-Worker Too

The AFL-CIO put together a good briefing book pointing out how anti-worker John McCain is.

by RandomNonviolence 2008-03-22 07:57PM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain

John McCain has been around a long time ... like forever! The problem with McCain is that the press loved him in 2000 and he lost! They still love him in 2008 and will pass off any and all blunders as "gaffes" and "understandable, excusable, slips of the tongue." The "narrative" has already been set and changing it will be like changing the course of the H.M.S. Titanic. A fighter pilot, prisoner of war, American hero doesn't "get old" and unfortunately doesn't fade away, either ... at least not in the minds of putrid pundits like Tweety, Timmeh, and all the other MSM sociopathic sycophants. If the battle was between the Democratic candidate and McCain, we'd win it hands down. The problem is, this battle is against star-struck Villagers, the national media, ignorant independents and bigoted blowhards. Whatever tack we take will be dismissed by all the "opinion makers" as crass, negative, inconsequential and unfair. This will NOT a level playing field ... not by a long shot!  

by randron 2008-03-22 08:26PM | 0 recs
Fallen Ones and Abuse of Power

I think the best thing to do is to weaken the tenuous marriage of the power-hungry and money-hungry neo-cons with the religious right.

We all know that Bush could never have even pretended to be elected without the support of the religious right.  The neo-cons adopt the rhetoric of family values and righteousness, then turn around and screw EVERYBODY except their wealthy buddies.

In other words, the wealthy few are relying on the (often poor and unemployed) religious many to keep them in power. Driving a wedge between those groups is the most important thing we can do.

In the paradigm that most the religious folks are in authority = righteousness. The authority figures like Bush / McCain are cast in the role of the father who gets to make the rules.  These folks (and the wealthy too) must all deserve their position or God would not have let them achieve it.

To us it may look like self-referential or paradoxical logic, but most of their voters are operating on a gut-level with this as truth.  We have to alter their gut-level relationship to the shifty, self-serving neo-cons and it WILL NOT HAPPEN WITH LIBERAL LOGIC.

The Fallen Ones

You know the story of God's favorite angel who got too proud and too enamored of power?  

If we want to separate the religious right from the neo-cons at a gut level, I think it relies on exposing the ABUSE of their power and position. We need to show the pride and arrogance in wielding their power and consistent patterns of corruption.

It's not like the evidence isn't there.  But as liberals we tend to attack the crimes or issues rather than the values and morals they embody.  Notice the attack on Bill Clinton for his affairs had NOTHING TO DO WITH ISSUES.  It was purely a way to discredit his authority with immorality.

That is exactly the way to fight McCain and the neo-cons.  Embark on a consistent mission of exposing their corruption and immorality while making the explicit connection to ABUSE OF POWER and PRIDEFUL ARROGANCE.

BTW, this not something that the candidates campaign should focus on as much as what we should be doing for them so they don't have to.  We already know the media is not on our side in this task... We have to seed the conservative blogs and other open channels with the evidence of these things. (S&L bailouts past & present, FCC letters, fake evidence to go to war, their own documentation of needing a "pearl harbor" like event, etc.)  

This may mean having to confront our massive collective denial and avoidance of 9/11.  Nothing would appear more devilish and more effectively illustrate their fall from grace than a solid connection to 9/11.  They're plenty vulnerable here.

We should get in the habit of framing every criticism in these terms of their failed VALUES and ABUSE OF POWER.  That kind of emotional appeal is their approach to get their base to believe the nonsense they spout.  How are you going to reach their audience without connecting on a similarly emotional level?


Thoughts about some of the other tactics proposed...

McCain=Bush or McBush ... NO!

Even though his approval ratings are low, HE'S THE FRIGGIN' PRESIDENT! And as unsavory as it seems to you, that demands respect and carries authority with the audience that you want your message to reach.  You are actually making a positive association about McCain's capacity to fill that role.  

(Personally, I kinda like the whole "McSame" moniker, not because of the Bush equivalency, but because it is more of the same everything.  Sadly, I don't think it will over shadow his "maverick" image so we should look elsewhere.)

He is Old ... NO!

First, this is ageism and that sucks. But more importantly the Baby Boomers are just too influential and are starting deal with being old.  You'll only serve to cement a huge voting base to leap to McCain's defense if they perceive he's being discriminated against because of age.  It's as futile as McCain trying to play the race card against Obama to separate him from a liberal base or a sex card against Hillary.  

Don't go there.  Speaking to his competency or temper is fine, but if you push the age thing, you'll lose the audience you want to reach.

by Artemystic 2008-03-22 08:44PM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

Attack his strength.  Hit him on his military record.  There's a reason why his nickname is "Reverse Ace".

by Anthony de Jesus 2008-03-22 10:03PM | 0 recs
A whole nother angle is the fact that McCain is

HIGHLY superstitious. He has all kinds of quirks and rituals that would get in the way of someone making serious, critical, rapid, and well reasoned judgments. As noted on MyDD previously.

Certainly, he would have to deny any superstition he's accused of that seems possible to assuage voters fears that in a time of crisis, he could go scrambling for his lucky underwear, or have to say "yes" three times before saying "no" or wait for a clock to say 12:34 or on the hour before making an important decision. Superstition is great if we were electing our chief priest of the Mayan sun god, but this is the President of the United States and we don't need someone playing superstitious crazy games with nuclear warheads.

by Reality Bites Back 2008-03-22 10:18PM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

John McCain as old and unstable>>>definately not since the most loyal democratic voter and most likely voters is the older people.

John McCain as angry, with a temper, a hothead>>>>definately not. He was a POW for 5 years and understandably it affected him. Using it against him would seem unpatriotric since he fights the demons everyday and does well to control it most of the time. Also might denote a fighter vs a candy a@@

John McCain as a war hawk who'll keep us in Iraq forever>>>>>fair game here- won't anger any major support group depending on how he frames the debate and if Obama can do better than 'he voted for it' (the force resolution)and I didn't.  

John McCain as confused and unprepared (can't tell the difference between Iran and Al-Qaeda for instance)>>>>>>> stupid and would seem to be more attacking his age and Obama has made the same blunders when talking about Pakistan and Afghanistan.

John McCain as weak and unprepared on economic issues>>>>>one of his weak points but also one of Obama's weak points. Both will hire someone who knows more about economics.

John McCain and his association with radical fundamentalist pastors like John Hagee>>>>>Rev. Wright- need I say more. This isn't an argument or a debate Obama would want or win.

John McCain as a flip-flopper or sellout>>>>>flip flopper is an old and mundane term meaning you can never ever change your mind....thanks but Bush has proved that 'flip flopping' is a good thing and downright stubborness to do anything different or change anything or admit a mistake is bad for the country.

Sheesh- with all of these arguments I might vote for McCain over Obama....except on the war issue if Obama could get past who signed the force resolution which contained about 20 IF's before any force being considered against Iraq and had a stonger stand on how to end the war without all the wiggle room he's given himself.

by Justwords 2008-03-23 12:33AM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

The tired and confused behaviour he displayed abroad last week feeds into the "too old" meme.  Once this idea gets a foot hold, he will not shake it.

The mental image many people have of McCain now dates from his semi-heroic fight of 2000 against Bush.  But that is not the McCain we have now.

by Bob H 2008-03-23 02:51AM | 0 recs
No positive campaign?

So has Obama decided already to run a negative campaign against McCain? Not strictly a pro-Obama positive campaign?

I'm shocked!

by ocli 2008-03-23 07:07AM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

His health care plan takes away the existing tax breaks for middle class company-based health care programs. So for those of us who have a good program in place, his first step is to take that away.

by 2liberal 2008-03-23 07:08AM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

Go after him on the age factor.  As a 61 year old I can't imagine him having enough stamina to do the job at the age of 72.  I find myself in the need for a nap at least once and sometimes more each day.  I can't believe he would be up to the regime of regular state dinners and endless courtesy calls.

by bruce 2008-03-23 08:22AM | 0 recs
Re: How To Attack John McCain: A Search Study

John McCain--running for Bushs' third term.

That's all we need.

by vivelosdiablosdelsol 2008-03-23 09:39AM | 0 recs


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