John McCain channels Rove and kills his brand

One of the questions that gets John McCain most onery these days is “where is the old McCain?” On television appearances like on “The View” and in various pool reports, McCain get visibly annoyed at the question. 

Reading the transcript from a recent Time Magazine interview, you can almost hear McCain’s annoyance: 

There’s a theme that recurs in your books and your speeches, both about putting country first but also about honor. I wonder if you could define honor for us?
Read it in my books.

I’ve read your books.
No, I’m not going to define it.

But honor in politics?
I defined it in five books. Read my books.

and another excerpt…

Do you miss the old way of doing it?
I don’t know what you’re talking about.

Really? Come on, Senator.
I’ll provide as much access as possible …

In 2000, after the primaries, you went back to South Carolina to talk about what you felt was a mistake you had made on the Confederate flag. Is there anything so far about this campaign that you wish you could take back or you might revisit when it’s over?
[Does not answer.]

Do I know you? [Says with a laugh.]
[Long pause.] I’m very happy with the way our campaign has been conducted, and I am very pleased and humbled to have the nomination of the Republican Party.

You do acknowledge there was a change in the campaign, in the way you had run the campaign?
[Shakes his head.]

You don’t acknowledge that? O.K., when your aides came to you and you decided, having been attacked by Barack Obama, to run some of those ads, was there a debate?
The campaign responded as planned.

McCain’s annoyance is clear, his talking points memorized. Tuesday’s debate was a talking point festival for both candidates. Only one of them looked comfortable. McCain’s brand is that of a maverick. We’ve heard the word so many times that it’s beginning to grate on the nation’s collective nerves. But a maverick wouldn’t run a campaign like this. And a true maverick would be doing what he thought was right for the country, not what is politically expedient at any given moment. 

Case in point: Sarah Palin. 

Sarah Palin is quite charming, for many across the country she is the original VPILF (look it up). But to anyone with an even remotely objective eye sees she’s not VP material. The sad thing here is that even McCain wanted someone else. He wanted Joe Liberman. Reports leading up the convention were that he even floated the idea of tapping Lieberman, to the dismay of the right of this party, particularly the Pro-Life set. 

Instead the “original maverick” made a choice geared directly at his base. They tried to dress it up as a maverick move, a decision outside the box and all that nonsense. The truth is a Lieberman pick would have put McCain outside the box and maybe all those swing states he’s failing in at the moment would have given him another chance. Maybe we would have seen the old John McCain. Instead the disciples of Rove drilled their talking points into two heads instead of one and then the McCain/Palin (still rarely seen apart) hit the trail. 

John McCain’s brand was about bringing people of disparate views together. It was about using dissonance to create solutions. But with the tactics of the last few months, Americans are feeling like they’ve seen this movie before. Its stars are different, but it feels the same. It feels like Karl Rove all over again.


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