Is Going Negative Ever Going To Backfire On McCain?
by Todd Beeton, Thu Jul 31, 2008 at 01:11:24 PM EDT
In the primary Hillary Clinton paid a price for going negative. Sure she won some big primaries but her negatives actually rose and conventional wisdom was that her legacy was damaged, which in retrospect seems fairly overblown. Considering John McCain's string of attack ads recently, Clinton appears down right restrained by comparison, but you remember the cries from independents -- oh, I can never vote for Hillary Clinton, her tactics are despicable, if she's the nominee I'm voting for McCain blah blah blah. Well, where is the outrage now that McCain has gone negative? And this is someone who actually claimed he would run a positive campaign, something Clinton never promised. If people are holding him to the same standard they held Clinton to, I'm not hearing it.
Now, it's true, the media has called out McCain for his low road tactics and even many on the right have expressed their grave disappointment (although I'm not sure what world they're living in if they expected anything different) but it would appear that so far McCain is not paying a price for going negative, although it's no secret that he is.
Yesterday's CNN poll found that nearly twice as many voters feel that John McCain is attacking Barack Obama unfairly (40%) than think the same about Barack (22%.) In addition, a new study from the Advertising Project at the University of Wisconsin found that a third of McCain's ads have been attacks against Obama, while a scant 10% of Obama's ads have even mentioned McCain.
"John McCain right now, he's spending an awful lot of time talking about me," Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said today in Rolla, Mo. "You notice that? I haven't seen an ad yet where he talks about what he's gonna do. And the reason is because those folks know they don't have any good answers, they know they've had their turn over the last eight years and made a mess of things. They know that you're not real happy with them."
But do people care? CNN found John McCain's favorable/unfavorable at a solid 62/33, essentially tied with Obama's 63/33. So why isn't McCain taking a hit for going negative?
I suspect that it has to do with the fact that McCain's image as a high road independent sort of politician (gag) still persists in people's minds. Clinton on the other hand was already perceived as a say and do anything to win type, so her going negative fit into people's pre-conceived notions. For McCain, though, there still needs to be some severe puncturing of that ever persistent McCain mystique, which is exactly why Obama's response ad focused on the message that McCain was "practicing the politics of the past" and it's why the DNC's ad out today calls McCain out for having broken his promise to run a "respectful campaign."
Also today, the Obama campaign has launched a new website, The Low Road Express, which plays off this New York Times editorial from yesterday, which captured the contrast between the 2008 McCain and both the McCain of 2000 and the McCain that McCain himself promised to be perfectly:
Well, that certainly didnt take long. On July 3, news reports said Senator John McCain, worried that he might lose the election before it truly started, opened his doors to disciples of Karl Rove from the 2004 campaign and the Bush White House. Less than a month later, the results are on full display. The candidate who started out talking about high-minded, civil debate has wholeheartedly adopted Mr. Roves low-minded and uncivil playbook.
In recent weeks, Mr. McCain has been waving the flag of fear (Senator Barack Obama wants to lose in Iraq), and issuing attacks that are sophomoric (suggesting that Mr. Obama is a socialist) and false (the presumptive Democratic nominee turned his back on wounded soldiers).
What Barack is doing here, just as he did in the primary -- although this time with the coordinated effort of the DNC -- is to a. proclaim himself as the agent of change practicing a new kind of politics, b. brand his opponent as "same old same old" and then c. just wait for his opponent to prove him right. It's fairly stunning that McCain would fall into the same trap, but as we've seen, he really has no choice but to go negative. As Susan Eisenhower, self-proclaimed lifelong Republican, said on an Obama conference call earlier today launching The Low Road Express:
John McCain is proving that the Republican Party has no new ideas.
So will this tactic backfire on McCain ultimately? I suspect it will, for the irony is the more McCain seeks to define Obama, the more he is actually un-defining himself and if he loses that...well, what else does he have?