Clark v. McCain: McCain's Losing & Here's Why
By: Ara

I like Chuck Todd (and his posse of deputies Mark Murray and Domenico Montanaro) but I think they're off in the tall grass on this:

[...[D]oes this entire episode remind anyone else of John Kerry’s botched joke before the 2006 midterms -- when Kerry’s mangled swipe at President Bush got twisted into a slap at US troops?
That's a misreading of what's happening here because Clark's point was made with far more intelligence and articulation than Kerry's (despite Obama calling it "inartful" but that's another story).

Here's how I see it:

McCain, trailing badly by most meaningful metrics, wants the Obama camp to hit him hard. Why? Three reasons:

  1. So that he can get as much free media as possible, but more importantly...

  2. So he can play the aggrieved victim, which leads to...

  3. Drawing the Republican base closer to him (McCain) in his defense.

That's it. So how's he doing? Not so good.

Obama is not the candidate that will lash out at his opponents. McCain should know this by now -- Obama is preternaturally cool (for a national politician) -- it is McCain who is the hothead. Instead of lashing out, Obama has repeatedly stated how much he honors McCain's sacrifice, but...that isn't enough to qualify McCain to be president. The longer McCain strikes back, the weaker and more petty he looks.

I think I know what McCain is trying to do: he (consciously or otherwise) is trying to take a page out of Richard Nixon's campaign playbook circa 1967. Back then, Nixon was perceived as a has-been, a loser that no one in their right mind would listen to. But Nixon figured out that if he could goad LBJ into lashing out at him personally, he could elevate his stature to that of the sitting president. And (more importantly) he could paint himself as a victim/outsider being picked on by the bully/insider. Nixon understood the simmering resentment against Johnson and knew that as soon as Johnson struck back it would draw the Republican base closer to him. It worked for Nixon back then.

But it won't work for McCain today because Obama isn't a bully and McCain isn't an outsider. Oh, he'll draw the Republican base closer to him because these are the same people that give Bush a 60% approval rating and they'll believe just about anything. But as far as getting the independents and disaffected Democrats...not so much.

Furthermore, the free media thing isn't working out so well either. For one thing, Wesley Clark has made his point with clarity ... and humility: Clark honors McCain's sacrifice, but will not concede that it automatically makes McCain the superior candidate for president. In my book, this makes him a decent candidate for Secretary of Defense or Chariman of the Armed Services Committee ... but not Chief Executive of the United States. Of course, McCain's camp simply won't accept that and continues to play the "sacrifice card" and the "military experience" card. But that misses the point and gives Clark yet another chance to repeat his point.

And you know what? Every day that this story stays alive cuts against McCain by allowing Clark's argument to be discussed in greater detail. It gives Sen. Webb a chance to weigh in. It gives McCain another opportunity to screw up by bringing in the bad actors from the Swiftboats for Slime -- the guys who trashed Kerry by trashing his military career.

Bad move Senator McCain: now YOU look like the bully. Can't you see? No one is trashing your military career. Not Clark, not Webb, not Obama. They are simply making a simple case: Being a hero yesterday does not punch your ticket to the Presidency...tomorrow.

Everyday that this issue is discussed AGAIN is another day where we get to consider whether we elect a president based on his judgment instead of his sacrifice. Hillary tried to frame her fight with Obama in a similar way -- experience versus judgment. She lost. If McCain wants to fight that battle again, he's going to lose just like Hillary did.

Elections are about the future, not the past. If McCain doesn't know that by now, he's doomed.

(cross posted at E Pluribus Unum)