How to beat McCain-- it's the character stupid!

This will be a short diary. As I am undecided about whom I will vote for next week in the primary, I've started to think about the general election.

Bowers, Lux amd other have asked how we can beat McCain.

My short answer is that it's the character, stupid. One of the central issues I have with being a progressive is that we sometime miss how the other guy thinks. This is a short diary about that- how the conservative and independent voter thinks.

If you want to beat McCain, you must destroy him personally. Many of you may find this distasteful, but please understand this is the most assured way we can win regardless of who we nominate.

The fact is both conservatives, for idealogical reasons, and independents, for emotional reasons, are informed by character/

For the conservative, especially Evangelicals, it's about personal responsibility, morality, etc. When the several scandals happened with the GOP several here and elsewhere wondered why the scandals never seemed to stick to the GOP as a group. It's because evangelicals and conservatives saw its as a sign of failed personal responsibility. A key element of their idealogical belief system.

For independent character matters, but for different reasons. It matters because they often vote less on issues,a nd more on the  personality. This congruence can be used to our favor just at it has been used against us in the past.

Toward this end, every issue, every policy, every scandal, every personal trait or unsavory emotion he displays, everything about the man must be defined with the goal of illustrating that he is a man of flawed character. If the money issue with McCain is true- this the window in which you need to work to define him.

Tags: Democrats, general election, John McCain, president (all tags)

Comments

21 Comments

Well... Really?

The sad reality is that we do not even know whether Obama's "personality" is a real thing or not thanks to the love fest of the MSM. And even though he IS someone the MSM claims to be, I do not think independent voters would find Obama is more "likable" than McCain who is, actually, very likable in many ways (and his good personality has a very solid one which survived all the terrible scrutinies). Destroying McCain using Obama's irresistible personality??? Not only unrealistic but also a terrible miscalculation.

by praxis1 2008-01-31 07:22AM | 0 recs
Re: Well... Really?

Huh? Seriously- huh?

by bruh21 2008-01-31 07:28AM | 0 recs
Re: How to beat McCain-- it's the character stupid

One thing I've noticed over the years is that the Democrats are always really really clumsy when it comes to character attacks.

If the strategy is to paint McCain as unstable, for example, they won't just go out and subtly build the narrative.  Instead, the first step will be an anonymous quote from a campaign strategist in the NYT that says, "We're going to try and paint McCain as unstable."

I honestly have no faith in the Democrats to ever get this right.

by Steve M 2008-01-31 07:23AM | 0 recs
Re: How to beat McCain-- it's the character stupid

I don't either. But as I've been seeing everyone state everything but the obvious. ie, they are arguing Iraq or the economy or this progressive value or that, and I think of my friends, and I think of how they make decisions. I then think about how conservatives think and how independents think- if we want to win- we have to learn how to play this game. Its the best shot we have ot dismantling his effectiveness as a candidate.

You are right. even clinton, who supposedly is a masterful politician, has been amateur hour in her attacks on obama. she telegraphs them a mile away.

by bruh21 2008-01-31 07:30AM | 0 recs
Careful

I think I agree with you to an extent, and I think the specific strategy chosen should depend on who our nominee is. I don't think we really have to "personally destroy" him, though. McCain has a lot of good will, and if our campaign to destroy his character is too agressive, it could backfire. Some character attacks are cleaner (i.e., more dignified) than others, and some care should be taken in designing these attacks. I would first go after his straight-talk reputation, which shouldn't be too difficult. Matt Yglesias has had a few posts recently highlighting McCain's flip-flops and inconsistent rhetoric (on global warming and immigration, for instance). Similarly, McCain's recent pandering showcases how illusory his straight-talk reputation is.

Also, I would highlight McCain's incompetence on policy issues. Specifically, he has demonstrated a surprising inability to discuss economic and educational policy in any kind of comforting detail.

Finally, as Romney's campaign has tried to highlight, McCain has a rich history of interpersonal squabbles and outbursts. Bringing attention to this reduces his likeability. In relation to McCain's likeability, the CNN focus group last night reacted quite negatively to McCain when he was being hard on Romney. The more we can show this side of McCain the better.

As it relates to dirty money and stuff like that, I think Obama will be in a much better position to deliver that kind of criticism. Also, I think Obama will be in a better position to criticize McCain's enthusiasm for continued presence in Iraq. He also makes McCain seem even more ancient.

by DPW 2008-01-31 07:36AM | 0 recs
Re: Careful

I honestly don't understand how you can say that after Kerry. What was the swiftboating about?

by bruh21 2008-01-31 07:43AM | 0 recs
Re: Careful

I think McCain is less vulnerable to that kind of attack than Kerry. Maybe I'm wrong, but when something similar was tried in SC, everyone seemed to laugh in disbelief at the tactic.

I'm also basing some of my thoughts on my own loss of affection for McCain. Before this primary began, I had a mild amount of respect for him (I basically found him to be more honest and genuine than most politicians). The more I've watched him, however, (especially over the past couple of months) I find him insincere, mean-spirited, and incompetent. So, that's why I recommended those angles. He strikes me as vulnerable along those lines.

by DPW 2008-01-31 07:50AM | 0 recs
Re: Careful

People thought kerry was not vulnerable to that kind of attack. i also note what you do here. The standard psychology of the the Democratic party.

by bruh21 2008-01-31 07:56AM | 0 recs
Re: Careful

my point at the end about our psychology is to realize that not everyone thinks like we do, and to realize how that can be used.

by bruh21 2008-01-31 07:56AM | 0 recs
Re: Careful

Well, a couple of things about my perspective: (1) For about 10 years, I was a libertarian (until about 2002); and (2) I've lived in red states (SC and NC) my entire life, which has familiarized me well--through friends and family--with more conservative perspectives.

So, I don't think my remarks reflect standard democratic psychology. I certainly don't feel as though I think about politics like most people at this site and kos.

by DPW 2008-01-31 08:03AM | 0 recs
Re: Careful

i am speaking of evangelicals and middle of the road independents, not libertarians, which is a different subset

by bruh21 2008-01-31 08:24AM | 0 recs
Re: Careful

My entire family is evangelical, most of them very uneducated (simple) folks from a mill village in Iva, SC. So, I think I understand that point of view very well.

The reason I mention my libertarianism is because I've spent the majority of my political life as a non-partisan who distrusted partisan politicians. McCain's appeal is that he doesn't seem to be a slave to partisan loyalty. This gets interpreted to reflect greater honesty and sincerity. Again, that's why I consider those his greatest vulnerabilities. It will cost him support from independents if we can diminish those perceptions among independents. McCain is already weak with the republican base.

by DPW 2008-01-31 08:37AM | 0 recs
Re: Careful

If you understand evangelicals, then you must agree the way to them is through the arguments over personal responsibility?

And it sounds like with the independents your differences is how to wage the character battle rather than whether there should be one?

by bruh21 2008-01-31 08:44AM | 0 recs
Re: Careful

Yeah, I agree that character is his vulnerability. I just thing our efforts have to target the (illusory) perception that he is a genuine, straight-talker. I sense (but may be wrong) that certain lines of attack could backfire. Specifically, I don't think we go near his military service. But, I'm fine with exposing any prior issues involving money. That will deflate his pork-barrel rhetoric, for one thing.

I've honestly grown to dislike the man and have no problem getting a little personal. And, I think Clinton will probably be able to rough him up, and get a way with it, a little more than Obama. On the other hand, Obama himself has a stronger reputation for good character, so it will be easier to draw a contrast on character issues, to the extent a campaign against McCain's character would be successful.

by DPW 2008-01-31 08:49AM | 0 recs
Re: Careful

This definitely not a debate about Obama or CLinton because I agree they each could go after him in different ways. I do see what you mean by the landmines. I was thinking of things like labeling him a flip flopper because of how he has changed on issues as it suits his political ambition.

by bruh21 2008-01-31 08:52AM | 0 recs
Re: Careful

I thought of your comment here when Obama in the debate delivered his line about the wheels coming off the straight talk express.

by Satya 2008-01-31 08:20PM | 0 recs
Re: How to beat McCain-- it's the character stupid

true, but i am a nobody- so i am not worried they would  care what i think.

by bruh21 2008-01-31 08:23AM | 0 recs
Very interesting

I think you have got the main point exactly right.  There are a couple of nuances though.  There is a difference to me between personality and character.  Personality is more superficial and falls along the lines of who you want to have a beer with.  The later involves understanding more about a person's development, background and family dynamics.  See the recent NPR Fresh Air interview of Jacob Weisberg on some of this (start around 17:00).

Like another other demographic, conservatives and independents are not monolithic and each individual of the demographic doesn't follow the rules you describe.  For example I think there is a subgroup of independents that are so progressive that for them the difference on some important issues between Dems and Repubs become insignificant.  The example uppermost in my mind is the high level of support the Dems gave Bush in the AUMF.

I've seen evangelical neighbors get really excited about Obama.  His openness to people of faith, even evangelicals, is getting him support.  They sense that even though his positions are 180 degrees different sometimes, his values are from the same foundation.  Now part of this alarms me and I have held the view that many evangelicals are extraordinarily naive.  They are willing to support blindly someone who talks the Christian talk (like Huckabee) but doesn't walk the walk (Huckabee's confederate flag pandering).  I find that the evangelicals I know are at least more aware of having been manipulated by Bush and are a little less naive.

Listen (don't read) Sen. Obama's speech at Ebenezer Church for an example of what I'm talking about, the "empathy deficit".  It's one of his best and if you have the time to listen to all of it you may find that he echoes some of the same themes as Edwards in some powerful ways.

So I think that not only must the character of McCain be heavily critiqued, but building up the character of the Dem nominee is also important - whoever the nominee may be.

by Satya 2008-01-31 08:40AM | 0 recs
Re: How to beat McCain--

You can't go after his character!  The guy was a POW, for goodness sake, and he's an old man. It will backfire.

To win, we must make sure Americans know what their options are and stress that.  Do they want to stay in Iraq and do they want to get out?  Do they want to go back to the Clinton Economy or do they want to stay in the Bush one?  Those are the choices and they have to be made clear- to win, we have to do it on policy- there are clear differences.  That Americans aren't voting for McCain or Clinton or Obama- but the way forward- they are just the figureheads of the choices- I think that is the way to go.

by reasonwarrior 2008-01-31 08:57AM | 0 recs
Re: How to beat McCain--

I disagree. I think DPW has a valid critique of what I have wrriten, but I don't think your wholesale argument against using character is valid. One of the weaknesses of Democrats is that we do not go after our opponents perceived strength (with McCain it's character) and instead leave ourselves in the defensive. How we do it may be open to question or debate, but the idea that we shouldn't do it seems to be a mistake.

by bruh21 2008-01-31 09:53AM | 0 recs
Re: How to beat McCain-- it's the character stupid
I agree with your analysis.

Unfortunately, it would require someone with the deviousness, deftness, timing, and insight into the target segment's mindset of Karl Rove. Plus, you're missing the key ingredient to Rove's success: he had a propaganda machine at his command and GOP pols, unlike their Dem counterparts, seem much more keen on following orders.

The Dems don't seem to be able to master walking and chewing gum simultaneously.

I'd target McCain's various weaknesses: (1)trophy wife/sexual philandering, (2)temperament, (3)age, and (4)political expediency. His age and temperament would seem to be especially fertile areas.

Goading him into a public temper tantrum would especially be effective. Video of McCain going off would be custom made for an announcer reading, "Do you really want this man's finger on the nuclear button?"
by Southern Patriot 2008-01-31 12:18PM | 0 recs

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