The Keen Strategic Insights of Bill Kristol

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It's a bit unfair to say, as Ezra Klein says, that Bill Kristol devoted a "whole column to arguing that a presidential nominee should hire [his] buddy." Only a bit, though.

From the gun clubs of Northern Virginia to the sports bars of Capitol Hill — wherever D.C.-area Republicans gather — you hear the question: "Where's Murphy?"

"Murphy" is Mike Murphy, the 46-year-old G.O.P. strategist who masterminded John McCain's 2000 primary race against George Bush… As observers of the 2000 effort know, he has a deep rapport with McCain—including an ability to tell him when he's made a mistake. He's a creative campaign tactician and an imaginative ad maker—but his great skill has always been an ability to find a clear theme for his candidates, as he did for McCain in 2000, who ran then as a conservative reformer and champion of national greatness.

A "champion of national greatness"! Hey, it's about time someone tried that out. But if you turn from the opinion page to the news pages of Kristol's paper, you see that 1)Murphy is already in McCain's orbit again and 2)hiring him might have the same effect that alka seltzer has on seagulls.

The cast includes the surviving members of Mr. McCain's 2000 campaign, led by Rick Davis and Mark Salter; a new camp out of the world of Karl Rove, led by the recently ascendant Steve Schmidt; and on the periphery, the ever-present Mike Murphy, Mr. McCain's strategist in the 2000 presidential race who has been dispensing advice to the candidate to the annoyance of the other camps, and is the subject of intensifying rumors in Republican circles that he is about to re-enter the campaign.

Mr. McCain is uncomfortable firing people or banishing them entirely. His orbit remains filled with people who have been demoted without being told they are being demoted, like Mr. Davis, who continues to hold the title of campaign manager even as Mr. Schmidt manages the campaign. Yet, Mr. McCain inspires uncommon loyalty in those who serve with him—hence the willingness of Mr. Murphy to consider coming back into the McCain campaign, despite his own rather brutal history of enmity with Mr. Davis.

Could Kristol's strategy be… wrong? I'm not sure how to deal with that.

Meanwhile, McCain's going up with a new national ad that smart Republicans are calling "bold, gutsy." Since McCain has said he's "sick and tired of re-fighting the Vietnam War," it spends about 20 seconds on the Vietnam War. Powers Booth (yes, really) narrates and opens with image of the greatest threat to America in the year 2008: Dirty hippies.

It was a time of uncertainty, hope, and change. The Summer of Love.

From there it cuts to imagery of Vietnam and McCain in POW camp—that's where he was while all these Obama progenitors were smoking banana peels and writing for Ramparts. The ad goes on to a fairly basic, Late Hillary Clinton message ("beautiful words can not make our lives better!") but I'm hung up on the intro. What, exactly, is the significance of the 60s here? Is it "we beat these hippies before, and we—can—do—it—again"?

UPDATE: Ed Morrissey's a fan.

It's an effective and affecting ad. Will it work? That depends in large part on how people see the 60s.

A hunch: They see it as a long time ago.

But maybe I'm being trite. Obama, after all, is laying down comparison after comparison to JFK (heading to Berlin, accepting the nomination in a football stadium), and the smart money on the theme of the Democratic Convention is a tribute to Camelot, given resonance by the slow burn-out of Ted Kennedy. Both candidates are counting on distorted memories of the 60s. I just don't think McCain's have much (or any) resonance, whereas Obama's are gauzy enough to have a little emotional push, at least.

NEXT: It's Good To Be King

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  1. Guys in my high school ran ads against hippies all the time. It was no big deal.

  2. What, exactly, is the significance of the 60s here? Is it “we beat these hippies before, and we – can – do – it – again”?

    Everyone hates hippies, so the ad is very inclusive. He’s a uniter, not a divider.

  3. David Weigel, you are going to burn in hell for composing that headline.

  4. But John McCain is not basing his campaign on his POW history. Oh, nooooooooooooooooooooo.

  5. Has anyone seen the “Crocs” speech McCain gave in Colorado yesterday? I’m not usually one to give a lot of creedence to stump-speech stumbles, but man, has McCain always been this bad at public speaking?

  6. What does any of this have to do with Vietnam, man?

  7. From the gun clubs of Northern Virginia to the sports bars of Capitol Hill – wherever D.C.-area Republicans gather – you hear the question: “Where’s Murphy?”

    Did Kristol himself visit those gun clubs and sports bars to confirm this, or did he send his intern?

  8. If Bill Kristol said it- you know it’s true.

  9. What’s going on with the comments on this thread?

  10. WHAT WHAT WHAT?

  11. Warren – You have to refresh it after loading it, for some reason. You also won’t see this until you figure that out.

  12. Powers Boothe was great in Deadwood, but he really shouldn’t be carrying his whoremongering into real life.

  13. What, exactly, is the significance of the 60s here?

    I believe this is an appeal to his base — the Press. They fucking HATE hippies and all the counter-culture 60’s stuff. I’m sure they are all gonna fawn over how impressive and effective the ads are and showing clips for free on all the talking heads shows.

  14. You’re not wrong, John, you’re just an asshole!

  15. Why does anybody pay attention to Bill Kristol?

  16. I haven’t seen the ad, but I wouldn’t dismiss it because the 60s were “a long time ago.” Alot of voters were alive a long time ago, and McCain has a better chance of influencing them than the kids who are in love with Obama.

  17. You have to refresh it after loading it, for some reason.

    You guys, too?

    I figgered it was some sort of Linuxtarian-hater Microsoftian server squirrel taking revenge on me.

  18. Powers Booth (yes, really) narrates and opens with image of the greatest threat to America in the year 2008: Dirty hippies.

    Don’t believe there’s no good hippies till you’ve seen one with maggots in his eyes.

  19. “Did Kristol himself visit those gun clubs and sports bars to confirm this, or did he send his intern?”

    That was also my first thought upon reading that opening sentence. But smart money is on the fact that he just made the whole thing up.

    Then I got curious as to why Kristol didn’t include the other totally cliched place that DC area Republicans might hang out – the gay bars. Because you knwo there they are constantly talking about why “Murph” hasn’t yet joined the McCain campaign.

  20. … Bill Kristol devoted a “whole column to arguing that a presidential nominee should hire [his] buddy.”

    That can’t be right. That smarmy, smirking prick can’t possibly have “buddies.”

  21. I think hiring anyone would be an improvement, because my dog could probably do a better job than his campaign managers have to date. The way he’s run so far is making people wonder if he wants to lose the election on purpose.

  22. Jaybird,

    McCain has his own way of doing things, but his campaign team is trying to turn him into a standard robo-canditate (Republican model), and he just can’t do it.’

    Heh, that’s not change we can believe in. Heh. *pause* I said, that’s not…

    You suck!

    They should just let McCain be McCain.

  23. Yeah, that’s an appropriate message.. considering that Barack was EIGHT YEARS OLD in the Summer of ’69. But yeah, he’s a MAVERICK who regulates elections so that incumbents are locked into office. No one else in Congress has the guts to do that.

  24. A “champion of national greatness”! Hey, it’s about time someone tried that out.

    Nah, what we really need is another champion of national malaise.

    The McCain ad makes a nice contrast between McCain’s youthful service Obama’s endless droning on about his useless (by his own admission) work as a community organizer, which he now wants to force everyone else to do.

  25. Well, it seems as though this is just one more thing in which Kristol was completely wrong about.
    In his column for the NY Times, Kristol wrote this:
    “It was widely assumed, though, that if either McCain or Romney won the nomination, the winner would bring Murphy on board for the general election. So far it hasn’t happened. I believe it soon will.”

    And from todays NY Times:
    “I’m not expecting to join the campaign,” he said. “I’m trying to kill and end all this stuff.”
    http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/07/08/count-murphy-out-for-mccain-campaign/index.html?hp

    Seriously though, how is it that Kristol is able to continue to make a living doing what he does. Almost everything the man asserts turns out to be untrue, and often times the exact opposite.
    If Kristol told me it was going to be a nice day out, I’d be sure to bring an umbrella.

  26. I forgot to add that I guess all the talk from Republicans that Kristol heard while hanging out in gun clubs and sports bars must have been their way of just getting Kristol to stop bothering them.

    “Sure, Kristol. Whatever you say. Yeah, Mike Murphy really needs to join the campaign. Maybe now you can leave me alone while I watch the game, huh?
    Is he still standing there? Thank God he’s gone. Maybe he went over to the gun club to bother the people over their. What a douchebag that guy is!”

  27. McCain is in the wrong generation. He still thinks its 1988.

    Talking about hippies and Jimmy Carter is like wheb the Democrats tried to talk avout Herbert Hoover in the 70s or wheb the Republicans in 1914 tried to run on the Civil War.

  28. It’s an effective and affecting ad. Will it work? That depends in large part on how people see the 60s.

    What about those of us who see it as time to give grandpa his medication?

  29. Bob Dole all over again.

  30. The McCain ad makes a nice contrast between McCain’s youthful service Obama’s endless droning on about his useless (by his own admission) work as a community organizer

    Good thing those bombing runs McCain flew over North Vietnam weren’t useless.

    Fucking Purssian wanna-be.

  31. Bob Dole achieved a level of dignity and respect, because he told the people who wanted to give a makeover and teach him to perform tricks to take a hike.

    Not so for John McCain.

  32. The best thing about the 1996 election was the Real World parody with Bob Dole on SNL.

    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-1668159891980120611

  33. The McCain ad makes a nice contrast between McCain’s youthful service Obama’s endless droning on about his useless (by his own admission) work as a community organizer, which he now wants to force everyone else to do.

    McCain himself admits everything in his life was half-assed and just enough to get by until he wound up in an indochinese swamp a little after he turned thirty-one.

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