Saturday, August 30, 2008

McCain's Mind

In the NYT, Elizabeth Bumiller and Michael Cooper present an account of how McCain chose Palin. Key paragraphs:
For weeks, advisers close to the campaign said, Mr. McCain had wanted to name as his running mate his good friend Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, the Democrat turned independent. But by the end of last weekend, the outrage from Christian conservatives over the possibility that Mr. McCain would fill out the Republican ticket with Mr. Lieberman, a supporter of abortion rights, had become too intense to be ignored.


Mr. McCain was comfortable with two others on his short list, Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts. But neither was the transformative, attention-grabbing choice Mr. McCain felt he needed, top campaign advisers said, to help him pivot from his image as the custodian of the status quo to a change agent like his Democratic rival, Senator Barack Obama.

Not least, Mr. Obama’s decision to pass over Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as his running mate opened the possibility for Republicans to put a woman on the ticket and pick off some of Mrs. Clinton’s supporters.

At 11 a.m. on Thursday, at the McCain vacation compound near Sedona, Ariz., Mr. McCain invited Ms. Palin to join him on the ticket. He hardly knew her, and she had virtually no foreign policy experience, but Ms. Palin was a “kindred spirit,” a McCain adviser said. Mr. McCain was betting, the adviser said, that she would help him reclaim the mantle of maverick that he had lost this year.


Last Sunday, 24 hours after Mr. Obama announced his running mate, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, Mr. McCain met with his senior campaign team at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Phoenix. By then, campaign advisers said, the group had long decided that Mr. McCain’s “experience versus change” argument against Mr. Obama had run its course, to the extent that it had worked at all.


In any case, one campaign adviser said, Mr. McCain hated running as the wizened old hand of experience. Despite his embrace this year of President Bush and many of the administration’s policies, Mr. McCain, a campaign adviser said, still saw himself as the maverick who delighted in occasionally throwing political grenades at his own Party.

Ms. Palin, and not Mr. Pawlenty or Mr. Romney, would reinforce Mr. McCain’s self-image, an adviser said. She had a reputation as a reformer in Alaska, she hunted and fished, and she had once belonged to a union. Just as crucial, Ms. Palin, 44, was beloved by the party’s religious base but did not come off as shrill. “She’s conservative,” Mr. Black said, “but she’s not an ideologue.”

So, what can be gathered from this? Pretty much what I said this morning.
  1. That McCain wanted to revive the "maverick" brand. That appears to have been his biggest concern.
  2. He was concerned about solidifying his base.
  3. He wants to be seen as a change agent.
  4. He had gotten as much use out of the "experience" argument as he could and was ready to turn tables.
  5. Getting Hillary's voters was not a primary motivator.

The only shocker in this article was how seriously he was considering Lieberman, which would have turned his campaign from a threat into the biggest joke in the political universe.



A G said...

I think this article just made the argument for me that McCain's campaign is better than the candidate, just as it is argued that Hillary Clinton was better than her campaign. You're right, if he was so seriously considering Liebermann, McCain's political instincts have to be really weak. He would've lost all Democrats and most Republicans - in one stroke ending his candidacy.

Anonymous said...

Or it could be said that McCain has people around him who are confident enough to disagree with him, and that McCain is smart enough to listen to them.

One wonders if any such conversations even occurred within the Obama circle. I truly wonder if there are anyone within the inner circle who are jumping up and down and screaming, "You've got to suck it up and get Hillary! We need to shore up the Democratic Party or we are going to lose in November!"

There are only two possibilities:

Yes. These people exist and could speak, but Barack's ego wouldn't allow him to listen (BAD - sound like a current POTUS we all love to hate?).

No. Even more frightening is the thought that opposing views are not allowed and that group-think has taken over. Again, remind us of a current inhabitant of the White House?

Anonymous said...

"Advisors close to the campaign said"

Were these the same ones who leaked the story about his alleged non-affair with Vicki Iseman?

Was the Lieberman story leaked intentionally to throw off the media?

I'm not claiming I know the answers, but reading tea leaves is about as accurate as relying on anonymous sources.

Anonymous said...

Not a joke. Lieberman is very well loved in the Christian conservative faction. That wouldn't have been a deal breaker for them. It just wouldn't have been as effective as Palin is.
Some of the other Republicans might have objected but they're Republicans. They would have fallen in line. But he was in real danger of having the evangelicals sitting home or moving slightly into Obama's camp so Lieberman might have done it AND siphoned off more conservative Democrats.
But Palin is ideologically his apprentice so besides the fact that she is a woman, she helps him project that reformer image. Plus, the whole union membership thing is a real asset.
I have to agree with Chicago Dyke on this one. Who ever is McCain's chessmaster is a genius. A scary genius.

Anonymous said...

Point 3 "[h]e wants to be seen as a change agent" can interpreted as: since Obama chose Biden, a mainstream choice, choosing Palin immediately points to change, dynamism and maverick selection.

I would add that Palin may be quite attractive to Hillary Democrats in states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania. Blue color workers who may be somewhat socially conservative may view Palin the hunter and a former union worker as one of them.

Bluelyon comment is worth reading. I do believe, no factual basis, that by and large, Obama likes to hear his own echo. But even if Hillary was the best VP ever, Obama will never allow a strong personally next to him. He is too cowardly to do that. That's the reason he resented Wes Clark and did try anyone with personality and ambitions to come close.

If my interpretation is correct, even Obama wins, the cabinet will consist of 2nd rate personal.

jangles said...

It is always possible that the mastermind behind the McCain campaign is McCain himself. I think McCain recognized early on that he had to move away from the Maverick image and toward Bush to ever get the Republican nod. But there is no question that McCain has invested a political life in being a maverick who likes to challenge his own party so the return to that self image is both a natural for him and a must. I also think McCain is getting counsel from Rove. If you listen to Rove on Fox and watch the McCain campaign you definitely see some parallel threads. In retrospect I am really struck with the contrast between the McCain process and the Obama process. We saw with Obama an open media circus and lots of build-up hype, even though it became obvious who he had picked well before the announcement (as confirmed by the stake out in the Biden compound). With McCain there was really a pretty low key build up with an actual selection that seemed to be a total surprise to the media and the Obama campaign. They also handled recognition of each other's selection differently. I think McCain overall had the better process and I think McCain chose someone who strengthened him overall while one can argue that Biden's selection seemed to confirm the argument that Obama was weak in national security and international relations---obviously Palin does not undercut McCain in that key CIC area at all.

A G said...

In a leadership course I'd taken a while ago, we'd discussed how to improve star employees' productivity: should we work on reinforcing areas of strength, or should we focus on mitigating the effects of weaknesses.

We learnt that usually, confident managers & leaders focus on their own and their employees' strengths. The insecure managers focus on shoring up weaknesses. Neither is the 'right' way, since a lot of insecure leaders also succeed in industry, they're just harder to work with.

Me, (being the confident lovely person to work with that I am :-))I believe competitive advantage is obtained by strengths; you win a battle of 'message' or market share when your clients/consumers LIKE the strengths that you offer. Not when they're indifferent to your weakness. Like someone said, you like your favorite football player because they do somethings really well. Not because they're average at everything.

Obama's pick, as so many have said here, was to mitigate his weakness. Palin works to reinforce McCain's core strength of being a 'maverick'. I think we have very strong emperical evidence here, again, of Obama's insecurity.