Posts Tagged ‘Talking Heads’

As a habit, I try to keep up with what the various pundits are saying about the election, because what they focus on often drives the political discussion at the local and national level. One guy I’ve been following especially closely is Karl Rove.

He’s been updating his presidential map fairly frequently, and I am surprised at his most recent forecast: a 313-171 rout for Obama, winning Florida and Virginia. Undecided states include Missouri, North Carolina, and North Dakota.

Rove is a movement conservative, but his political instincts and insights are finely honed after decades of experience as a partisan operative. Whether or not his new role as a pundit frees him from the standard GOP spin is subject to debate, but if he is being this frank about McCain’s chances publicly, I can only imagine the kind of fretting going on behind closed doors in Republican circles.

ABC’s Jake Tapper has a good recap of the highlights of Powell’s interview on Meet the Press.

As I said before – this will dominate the news cycle for one or two days. Pundits in the blogosphere and the major media will be aflutter talking about this. Obama clearly controlled the narrative yesterday with the carefully timed announcement of his $150 million fundraising figure and the nod from Powell.

McCain’s problem is that he is running out of time. He has about two weeks to go and not many ways to change or control the media narrative before Election Day. Barring a drastic change in the underlying fundamental dynamic of this election (which happened when the financial crisis hit on September 15), the political environment will continue to favor Obama.

Update: Former McCain adviser Mike Murphy weighs in at TIME’s Swampland Blog. His analysis: “Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama today is a real sledgehammer blow to the already staggering McCain campaign.” The rest of it is not pretty.

A few days ago, I made note of the back and forth sniping going on between the McCain campaign and conservative pundit Bill Kristol. It’s gotten a bit personal lately, with McCain campaign manager Rick Davis personally taking Kristol out to the woodshed on national television. The key soundbite:

DAVIS: Yes, well, you know, it’s a good thing Bill Kristol has never run a political campaign because he’d probably have to fire himself at least two or three times.

This may be beyond standard political sniping. Scott Horton of Harper’s has written extensively about Bill Kristol’s role in promoting Sarah Palin for the VP slot. But in a recent interview with Glenn Greenwald, Horton reveals evidence of discontent behind closed doors at the McCain campaign.

SH: I’d say, of course the McCain campaign isn’t doing too well right now, and one of the consequences of that is we’ve got a lot of finger-pointing going on within the camp, and I’d say there’s a pretty broad agreement amongst a number of the senior-most advisors to McCain that the Palin pick is worse than disappointing. It’s a total disaster, as one describes to me. And there is a sort of blame game going on there.

Now, one of them described to me quite recently in some detail, who it was who introduced and pushed the Palin nomination, and he says it really boils down – there were a number of people behind the nomination, but there’s one person who was essentially the person who introduced her as a candidate and pushed her consistently and firmly all through the summer primary she was elected – and that person is Bill Kristol. And the interesting thing is of course, if we look across the whole horizon of conservative columnists, prominent conservative columnists, pretty much all of them are expressing reservations or concerns or they’re outright opposing Palin as a pick, with one really striking exception, and that’s Bill Kristol. And Bill Kristol, in none of his columns has acknowledged that he in a sense is the author of Sarah Palin. He discovered her, he promoted her, and he pushed her through to the vice-presidential nomination.

If this is true, that makes Kristol’s recent criticism of Palin much more self-serving. It’s become full-on cover your ass mode. When the post-mortem of this campaign is written, there will be a lot of people pointing fingers at each other, and I think quite a few of them will be pointed at Bill Kristol.

See Rush Limbaugh’s question to Sarah Palin.

SCRANTON, Pennsylvania (CNN) – Though her cell phone service repeatedly dropped during her call-in, Sarah Palin made her first appearance on the Rush Limbaugh show on Tuesday, just minutes before taking the stage at a rally in Scranton.

In an unusual moment, Limbaugh asked Palin if she had thought about her “political future beyond this campaign.” The vice presidential nominee told the conservative talker and his millions of listeners: “That’s a good question.” But she then quickly re-assured the radio host that her focus was on winning the White House with John McCain on November 4.

“No, because I am thinking about November 4, and I am just so absolutely passionate about the job that we have in front of us from now to November 4,” she said.

If Limbaugh’s asking about Palin’s future, odds are that rank and file conservatives are probably thinking and feeling the same way.

Marc Ambinder does a good job of explaining the war of words between conservative pundit Bill Kristol and McCain surrogate Nancy Pfotenhauer.

Less than 12 hours to go before the second presidential debate, this time in the town hall format moderated by Tom Brokaw where the candidates take questions from voters. Here’s a look at what the two candidates need to do, based on the first debate and the events of the last week.

JOHN MCCAIN:
McCain, his campaign, and his operatives have decided to go on a full blast assault on Barack Obama based on his associations with Bill Ayers, Tony Rezko, and to a lesser degree, Jeremiah Wright. The harshly negative tone borders on shrill at times. While Hillary Clinton and her campaign tried to make an issue out of it during the primaries, there was no silver bullet there to sink Obama’s candidacy. Unless some enterprising reporter uncovers a previously undiscovered damning smoking gun, odds are the guilt by association attacks won’t have any impact during the general election either.

The Muslim Manchurian Candidate rumors are beginning to circulate again, and a sheriff at a Palin event in Florida dropped the H-bomb, a comment the McCain campaign called “inappropriate.”

Political operatives and TV pundits say that people are turned off by negative campaigning, but the reality is it works. The risk for the person who goes negative (in this case, McCain) is that in going negative, you risk driving up your own negatives in addition to the other guy’s. A political murder-suicide, if you will.

The point of doing this is not for McCain to win an election, but for Barack Obama to lose it. McCain has been losing since the financial crisis hit, and he is running out of time to change both the media narrative or political momentum in his favor before voters go to the polls. By focusing the narrative of the last day or so on blistering attacks on Barack Obama, McCain has all but guaranteed he will go there during the debate tonight if Tom Brokaw does not.

Looking back at the first debate, McCain got the Al Gore 2000 treatment from the media and the talking heads afterward, when almost everyone pointed out his inability (or refusal, depending on your perspective) to look Barack Obama in the eye when answering a question, even at the encouragement of Jim Lehrer. McCain’s advisors would be guilty of political malpractice if they did not point this out to him and correct it before the debate tonight.

He also needs to avoid any major gaffes, or repeating any of the exaggerated or false lines of attack which have already been well documented and debunked by the press (i.e. the sex ed for kindergarteners ad). If McCain goes there, do not be surprised if Tom Brokaw, if not Barack Obama himself, calls him out on it.

McCain prefers the townhall format, which of course means the Obama campaign is raising expectations of him before the debate.

BARACK OBAMA:
Obama has been in the driver’s seat for the better part of two weeks and continues to build on his momentum in state and national polls. He already held his own in the first debate, which thematically was focused on John McCain’s strong subject.

Obama was clearly prepared for a negative barrage in the home stretch, since he launched a website attacking McCain for his role in the Keating 5 scandal at the same time McCain began hinting of his own negative attacks earlier this week. It wouldn’t be a classic October Surprise for anyone who knows McCain’s history, and the candidate himself has written about it in his own books. But this has more relevance to the current situations than Obama’s dealings with Ayers, Rezko, and Wright because 1) it was part of the biggest banking and financial crisis of its day, which Obama can then try and tie into what is happening right now; and 2) it involves McCain’s behavior and judgment as a U.S. Senator.

Like McCain, Obama needs to avoid making any gaffes in the debate which can be exploited by his opponent. Obama has been very cool in the sense that he doesn’t get rattled or angry during a debate, a benefit of the long hard slog that was the Democratic primary earlier this year. If he can get under McCain’s skin, that might create an unfavorable impression with voters at the debate and watching on TV, as well as the network pundits and talking heads.

As in the first debate, he doesn’t have to do or say anything risky except hold his own. The momentum and the political climate are working to his advantage right now. Given that the top concern on most voters’ minds right now is the economy, that automatically puts Obama at an advantage because polls show that voters prefer him to McCain on dealing with the economy, and the economy will be the focus of a lot of the questions. Because he is leading, a draw in this debate essentially amounts to the same as an outright Obama win.

One thing that both candidates need to be careful about, and it is something beyond either of their control, is the audience. Slate’s John Dickerson has this article on the perils of the town hall format and how it hurt George H.W. Bush during the 1992 campaign. It may be in the substance or tone or body language of their response to the question, but the nature of the town hall format offers plenty of opportunities for candidates to shoot themselves in the foot.

Karl Rove has launched a website. As if you needed more tea leaves that McCain was in trouble, the most prominent Republican strategist of his generation is projecting an Obama win in his analysis of the Electoral College map a month out from Election Day.

Separately, this Politico article points out the pressure the McCain campaign is under to defend Virginia, which has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1964. But it also looks at the national map as a whole, and how the unfriendly dynamics of the race are forcing the McCain campaign to adjust in the final stretch:

Beyond the financial implications of that approach, the GOP ticket is confronting new demands on its time. The McCain campaign would prefer to have the Arizona senator and Alaska governor campaign together, but they are now being forced to protect more states so they may have to spend more time apart.

It’s a akin to a campaign version of whack-a-mole, where finite time and money is being spread across the landscape to defend against sudden and unexpected Democratic surges on GOP turf.

Not good omens for the GOP with less than a month to go before the election.