The Keen Strategic Insights of Bill Kristol


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.