11.05.08

McCain deserves some credit

Posted in Society at 12:54 by RjZ

In my last post, I admitted that I can’t take any credit for Mr. Obama’s election, but I think McCain, or at least his campaign, can. From a marketing standpoint, McCain failed to differentiate, present a clear message, and neglected to show how he would fill needs of his market. Beyond the marketing failures, here are some highlights of how his campaign failed to capture the White house:

Not being presidential. Mr. McCain was most impressive in his last debate and above all, in his gracious concession speech. Unfortunately, most of the time, though, McCain appeared more erratic than maverick. During the recent climax to the credit crisis, McCain’s antics of ‘freezing his campaign’ were a gamble he didn’t really have to make. It had little upside, and plenty of downside. Instead of appearing a steady hand at the tiller, McCain looked like a desperate candidate looking for ways to get on the voter’s good side.

Choosing Sarah Palin. Conservatives loved Ms. Palin. But would they really have stayed home without her? They were going to have to hold socially conservative noses to vote for McCain but given the boos and heckles during McCain’s concession speech, they weren’t going to hesitate to vote for him. What Ms. Palin did was scare away the very moderates that McCain actually had a chance with. Many a libertarian and Ron Paul supporter would have joined the nose holding social conservatives and voted for McCain in the hopes that he might have been able to make good on his fiscally conservative promises. But with the unqualified Palin on the ticket, they sure weren’t going to risk it. For example, Mr. Obama may not have won my vote, but McCain surely lost it the moment he selected the inexperienced and extremist Palin. In other words, he traded shoring up the base for the entire middle. Seems like a terrible idea.

Going negative. Well, let’s face it, strictly speaking, Obama’s campaign went more negative than McCain’s. After all, Obama had so many more ads than McCain did, that he had more negative ads too. But it’s clear to anyone watching television in a battleground state like Colorado, that the balance of Obama’s ads were positive vote for me because ads and not McCain’s don’t vote for him because ads. Negative ads work though, so why didn’t they work for McCain? First, because, unlike Mr. Rove, the McCain campaign couldn’t seem to pick a winner. There was no swift-boat that they could find to stick. So instead of staying with the only one I thought might work (Mr. Obama spent 20 years in the church of a downright anti-American preacher) they went from one claim to another and just looked like a bunch of complainers. Meanwhile, the Obama campaign stuck with their one and only swift-boat: that McCain is no maverick at all, but rather more of the ~20% approval rating Bush administration.

Not spending (well, having) enough money. Pundits and bloggers are going on about how there was no way McCain could have won with so much less money than Obama. That’s fair, I guess, Democrats complained about the same thing with Bush. But here’s the thing: who donated all that cash? McCain couldn’t generate the cash that Obama had because he never held on to a message long enough to get people on his side. Obama’s campaign didn’t always have all this money: people flocked to him because he inspired them to open up their wallets and get him elected. Complain about it if you wish, but it says something (good) that there was so much money in the campaign. If you really don’t like this sort of thing, then push for campaign finance limits. Or better yet, spend some of your money on the campaign you want to win the election: that’s your free-speech right! Obviously loads big and small donors exercised that right.

Failing to notice that the Obama campaign was a new and different campaign which spent less time convincing people and more time encouraging them to join the team. This might be key element of the Obama campaign. People felt a part of something. Obama could sit back and look presidential in the face of attacks because he was ahead and in the closing weeks of the campaign, early voters were turning out for Obama while McCain’s campaign was struggling to find a message. Obama’s recruits enthusiastically hit the streets and found others to join them. Together they motivated a record turn out. If Mr. Obama can continue that enthusiasm forward, it may not only be the most important lesson for campaigns, but the true legacy of his presidency.

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