Political Hay

Over Before It Began

The McCain campaign quit early.

By 11.7.08

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According to Newsweek, "On the Sunday night before the last debate, McCain's core group of advisers -- Steve Schmidt, Rick Davis, adman Fred Davis, strategist Greg Strimple, pollster Bill McInturff and strategy director Sarah Simmons -- met to decide whether to tell McCain that the race was effectively over, that he no longer had a chance to win. The consensus in the room was no, not yet, not while he still had 'a pulse.'"

This spirit of defeat explains why McCain staffers spent the last week or so of the campaign leaking against Sarah Palin. By the end of the race, the choicest pieces of inside-the-beltway elitism were coming not from Barack Obama but from McCain's own staffers. Palin and family, the staffers let it be known, were clinging to their God, guns, and newfound Neiman Marcus items.

"Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcus from coast to coast." That is the description Newsweek received from an "angry aide."

That the staffers had given up by October also explains why the most potent attack on Obama came not from the campaign but from pure happenstance outside it: Joe the plumber's accidental meeting with Obama.

McCain acted like that was the first time he had ever heard Obama's thoughts on economic redistribution. Had the campaign exhausted its opposition research budget at Neiman Marcus? To anyone even remotely paying attention, Obama's understanding of taxation as tool of economic redistribution was clear long before Joe the plumber arrived on the scene. Obama had used the word redistribution repeatedly in his writings and speeches.

McCain's last-minute reliance on the gimmick of Joe the plumber made it easy for the media to dismiss his charge of "socialism" against Obama as feeble name-calling. Many months early, the McCain campaign could have been developing that case, and it wouldn't have taken much effort: Obama had let slip socialist, even Marxian, assumptions in his thinking several times, from his Marxian description of religion as an opiate for the masses to his bald calls for "confiscating" the profits of oil companies to his open class warfare.

By the end of the race, the McCain campaign seemed to depend on the latest Drudge Report links for the few talking points it could rouse itself to make. Obama's casual comment about bankrupting the coal industry had been gathering dust for months, only becoming an issue via Drudge at the last moment.

Even when the campaign occasionally stumbled down a promising avenue of attack, it would stop and dart down a new cul-de-sac. Take the ad it ran early on about Obama's work with Planned Parenthood to spread sex-ed propaganda in elementary schools. That ad hit its target squarely enough to generate days of grousing from Joe Biden and, in a rare moment of irritation, Barack Obama. Obama's surrogates in the press also spent days frowning over the ad, another measure of its effectiveness. But where was the follow-up?

The McCain campaign could have rolled out a series of such ads. Instead, social conservatism was henceforth treated by the McCain campaign as a no-go area. For example, the day after the Connecticut Supreme Court imposed gay marriage on the people there, McCain said nothing about the decision. Not a word as far as I could tell was even spoken during the campaign about Obama's de facto support for gay marriage.

Meanwhile, Obama was running ad after ad about his belief in "parental responsibility," crafting an unchallenged image of himself as a centrist. Accidentally, Obama ended up doing more to pass the traditional marriage initiative Proposition 8 in California than McCain: the high turnout of blacks to vote for Obama meant they also voted on Proposition 8, which they supported overwhelmingly.

That McCain lost while traditional marriage amendments across the country, no thanks to him, won is a fitting final note to the haplessness of his campaign. The media perked up briefly in October at the possibility of a rift when Palin strayed from the McCain script by endorsing the marriage amendments. But that quickly passed and the campaign staffers got back to topics of more interest to them, such as, if Newsweek is right, Palin's jackets and John McCain's inevitable defeat.

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About the Author
George Neumayr, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is co-author of No Higher Power: Obama's War on Religious Freedom.