Now that the McCain campaign has lost, the long knives and finger pointing have begun. Ya know something? It's been less than 24 hours and I don't suspect that anyone really gives a rat's ass who is to blame. It doesn't change the result.
I am going to offer only one recrimination, because I think it speaks to the larger problem that Republicans have to overcome. John McCain made one absolutely crucial mistake in this campaign, which was this: he accepted the framing of the debate that the MSM and the Obama campaign offered and spent the entire election arguing on their terms.
A pertinent example of how this played out -- McCain and his handlers let people who didn't support Sarah Palin create the narrative for her portion of the campaign. Why, precisely, were the interviews with Charlie Gibson or Katie Couric so consequential? Because the McCain campaign let them be. We could see what was coming. We had every reason to know that the networks would edit Palin's responses in an unflattering manner. This is standard procedure. But instead of putting Palin out there more frequently, on local channels, or on cable interviews, or with talk radio broadcasters, they accepted the self-appointed role of the the MSM.
Another example -- since Obama didn't want to talk about Jeremiah Wright, and the MSM didn't either, McCain dutfully pulled it from the table. Well, considering the central role that Rev. Wright has played in the President-elect's life, it sure the heck seemed like it shouldn't have been off limits. I can only assume that McCain didn't want to be accused of doing something dishonorable or racist. Well, he faced those accusations anyway. Would this association have made a difference? We'll never know. Meanwhile, a 527 rushed out a Wright ad in the last week of the campaign, and I was treated last night to watching Tom Brokaw and David Axelrod discussing how dishonorable the McCain campaign was for running the ad, even though it hadn't. If you're going to get blamed anyway, there's no good reason to keep your powder dry.
The next Republican candidate will have options. And the option I'd recommend is to go over the heads of the MSM. Take your message directly to the people, whether it's over the internet, through alternative media outlets or on television spots. Your message may not get to the general audience unscathed, but you can reach the audiences who are receptive to your message and make sure they hear it without mediation.
Now, three quick things to watch in the coming days:
- The fate of Patrick Fitzgerald. I have written about this issue a number of times in the past and it still matters. I don't harbor any dreams that somehow Tony Rezko is going to turn state's evidence and send Obama to the federal pen. But cleaning up politics in Illinois matters greatly. Patrick Fitzgerald is working on getting the information needed to prosecute the corrupt governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich. He's also working on matters that could eventually point all the way back to the real power in Illinois, which is in the mayor's office. Obama could pretty easily protect his pals. He has pledged not to get rid of Fitzgerald. If he does, you'll learn something pretty ugly about the new Leader of the Free World.
- The early hires. The first pick out of the box is not a good one -- it's Rahm Emanuel, the former Clinton hand and current congressman/button man, for Obama's chief of staff. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this guy has the potential to be an H.R. Haldeman type. Obama needs an effective, cool-headed executive in this role. Bill Clinton to his credit chose Leon Panetta, who was exactly the right sort of guy. Obama doesn't need a hot-headed, take no prisoners partisan. But that is who he has hired. It doesn't send the right message. I'll be watching the next few choices closely. They will tell you a lot about how Obama will govern.
- Watch the lame duck session closely. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid will certainly feel emboldened and they are likely to try to get a head start on the next four years in the upcoming lame duck session, with the first order of business being another "stimulus" package that will be a festival of pork. Obama could establish a healthy precedent by talking Pelosi and Reid out of this idea. I hope he will.