The most important thing about a good attack is not the attack itself. It’s baiting your opponent to respond the way you want him to respond, because only the things that come out of his mouth will ultimately stick.
Obama seems to be falling into the trap of response-centrism. If only they could respond the right way, they figure, all will be well. But it won’t be. Because the game they are playing is reactive. Instead of changing the subject off Palin by launching some explosive new attack on McCain, all they do is respond, respond, respond. And the story, day after day, is Democratic Presidential nominee responds to Republican Vice Presidential nominee. The optics of that stink for them.
In an upcoming post, I’ll explain which kinds of attack work, and which don’t.
That will be a must-read post. Democrats, bookmark Ruffini. He will annoy you, but he knows what he’s talking about. I find his blog posts utterly indispensable: he is a conservative activist, but he’s also an incredibly sharp political observer. Imagine if David Axelrod had a blog. I’m convinced Ruffini is a strategist of that caliber.
Also, Jeff Goldberg has some insight into McCain’s over-the-top campaigning.
The point is that McCain knows that preemption isn’t the easiest sell these days: “It’s very hard to run for president on this idea right now,” he told me.
So, what do you do when one of your core ideas is out of sync with the predispositions of the American public? You spend your days talking about lipstick on pigs. This might win him the election, but I’d rather see him debate preemption.
I’d go further. To the extent McCain has strong domestic policy views, my sense is that they are rooted in root canal economics: balanced budgets, fiscal austerity, belt-tightening, all in the name of the greater good. He is not by nature a Kempite, nor is he an instinctive Sam’s Club Republican — two alternatives to root-canalism. (Andrew Ferguson, by the way, wrote the definitive take on the thematic incoherence of McCain’s economic approach.) Which is to say, McCain’s core beliefs on domestic issues are not popular with the public. Not that he used to oppose offshore drilling and he strongly favored cap-and-trade, an issue he now deemphasizes, except when asked to differentiate himself from the Republican mainstream.
This is frustrating. I have a great deal of admiration and respect for John McCain. He really is in a tough spot. I imagine I’ll go back to criticizing Obama at some point, but, as Ruffini points out, Obama is doing a perfectly good job of getting tangled up in knots. Honestly, I’ve got to stop.