Campaigns/Elections

Lords of Undiscipline

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This gruesome CNN exchange with John McCain spokesman Michael Goldfarb (on loan from The Weekly Standard), highlights something I've long observed but rarely written about: The McCain campaign's stunning lack of discipline. First, take a look at Goldfarb missing an opportunity to paint Rick Sanchez as a rabid Obama fan by instead turning the entire segment into a bizarre Obama-consorts-with-known-anti-Semites-who-we-all-know-but-I-won't-name:

Goldfarb may be a swell guy in private (I've heard rumors to that effect), but you don't win elections by deploying non-professionals who aren't ready for the ultimate prime time of a presidential campaign. And it really ain't Goldfarb I'm talking about here (though his campaign blog amounts to a churlish dartboard on the face of the evil MSM), it's seemingly everyone in McCain's campaign, from alter-ego Mark Salter on down. Consider the kind of comments that have leaked from the McCain shop over the past few weeks:

The Politico:

"These people are going to try and shred [Palin] after the campaign to divert blame from themselves," a McCain insider said, referring to McCain's chief strategist, Steve Schmidt, and to Nicolle Wallace, a former Bush aide who has taken a lead role in Palin's campaign. Palin's partisans blame Wallace, in particular, for Palin's avoiding of the media for days and then giving a high-stakes interview to CBS News' Katie Couric, the sometimes painful content of which the campaign allowed to be parceled out over a week.

"A number of Gov. Palin's staff have not had her best interests at heart, and they have not had the campaign's best interests at heart," the McCain insider fumed

CNN:

"She is a diva. She takes no advice from anyone," said this McCain adviser. "She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else.

"Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: Divas trust only unto themselves, as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom."

New York Times magazine:

"Leaving aside her actual experience, do you know how informed Governor Palin is about the issues of the day?" The senior adviser thought for a moment. Then he looked up from his beer. "No," he said quietly. "I don't know."

To which I'll add one stupid second-hand anecdote: I shared a cab ride from Reagan National after the Republican National Convention with a legal adviser who happened to stay in the McCain campaign hotel. One night late, she said, she was at the bar with several McCain staffers, and the solicitous hotel staff asked if there was anything else they could get for them? "Yeah," groused one (she said). "A vetted vice presidential candidate"

Even leaving the bizarre Palin feud out of it, there are near-daily comments that make you wonder why campaign staffers aren't being fired. Probably the worst example of all was the early-October quote by a "top McCain strategist" in the New York Daily News that "If we keep talking about the economic crisis, we're going to lose." Thus the headlines for a week (rightly) focused on the fact that McCain was intentionally diverting the conversation away from the issue Americans care about most. Brilliant!

On some important level, campaign comportment is really, really low on my totem pole of who-gives-a-rip (far below, say, attitudes and policies toward free trade, where McCain beats Obama like a gong), but after a while you look at the gross indiscipline of a political organization and begin to wonder, is the guy at the top even competent at running a large, pressure-filled organization?

Without soliciting a single one, I've received earfuls of off-the-record anecdotes over the years from McCain insiders bemoaning and detailing various manifestations of organizational civil wars, incompetence, murky contracting…. And to speak against my own interest for a minute, I shouldn't be the guy hearing this stuff. Winging it frat-boy style may be a hoot for those who enjoy 1 a.m. hotel-bar bull sessions, but unless you've got a super-coherent campaign message–and Lord knows, McCain does not–it's a recipe for embarrassment, and failure.

NEXT: That's Electioneering Using a Cell Phone, And It's Not Fair!

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  1. And to speak against my own interest for a minute, I shouldn’t be the guy hearing this stuff.

    Why? Are you writing some kind of book or something?

  2. Matt,

    Besides finding Sen. McCain to be too Socialistic for my taste I do find his little helpers, who have been infecting my neighborhood (and one of his) for over a year now, to be quite annoying. Of course, some of them are nice young people, but the majority are more annoying than those damn “Young Republicans” that keep showing up in Crystal City every year or so.

    I guess the antics of his campaigners and staffers (was that redundant?) prevented any “warming up” I may have done towards his campaign for the nomination and for President.

    Now, speaking of Sen. Obama hanging out with that known anti-Semite, when are you going to publish your copy of the video? 😉

  3. I think Michael Goldfarb is also the guy who said that he hopes everyone who voted for Ron Paul in any of the Republican primaries votes for someone other than the GOP nominee.

    He’s not really the best guy McCain could use as a spokesman.

  4. “A number of Gov. Palin’s staff have not had her best interests at heart, and they have not had the campaign’s best interests at heart,” the McCain insider fumed

    If you can’t even prevent infighting within your campaign, or at the very least, quash any appearance of it, you definitely have organizational problems.

    Maybe it’s because they’re both MAVRICKs.

  5. “Obama-consorts-with-known-anti-Semites-who-we-all-know-but-I-won’t-name”

    I think he was refering to Brzezinski, Mika’s dad.

  6. This makes the Bob Dole campaign seem extremely competent. And I can’t even remember who Dole’s VP choice was.

  7. “Yeah,” groused one (she said). “A vetted vice presidential candidate”

    The idiot can’t even tell that the presidential candidate isn’t vetted either.

    Putting the blame on Palin is a cop out. The RNC knew years ago that McCain couldn’t win a national election. If they cared about winning the POTUS, they would’ve recruited a stronger candidate. I think the RNC got complacent because the DNC was running weak candidates like Gore and Kerry and assumed the trend would continue.

  8. If McCain has an ulcer from picking Palin, it’s his own damn fault. He’s the one that picked her to be VP, after all.

    These stories seem to paint an overall picture of ineptitude. I’m glad he has no chance of being president.

  9. “This makes the Bob Dole campaign seem extremely competent. And I can’t even remember who Dole’s VP choice was.”

    That’s why I wanted Romney to be the VP for McDole, so he can be “Kemped” as well and forgotten.

  10. This makes the Bob Dole campaign seem extremely competent. And I can’t even remember who Dole’s VP choice was.

    Jack Kemp

    (However, I’m surprised that I remember.)

  11. How the fuck did the Queeg-Palin ticket even happen? The delegates at the convention should have rioted, and nominated somebody from the floor.

    Disclaimer: The Republicans never *had* me to lose, but I despise incompetence.

  12. Be that as it may, and speaking of sleazy partisans,
    Keith Olbermann is a Democrat fluff boy.
    So there.

  13. PC, it’s why I wanted it to be Jindal.

    A fun story I heard about the McCain campaign is that last February, McCain and some cronies were staying at the same hotel the New Hampshire Liberty Forum (put on by the Free State Project) was using. All the NHLF people were open carrying all the time, and the McCain people asked the hotel to make them stop. Later, one of the NHLF guys tried to ask McCain some questions as he was waiting for an elevator. McCain stared straight ahead silently, and one of his supporters started trying to push people around – including Barry Cooper, the ex-drug cop who made Never Get Busted.

  14. Keith Olbermann is a Democrat fluff boy.

    Stop the presses.

  15. PC, it’s why I wanted it to be Jindal.

    Why not go for the twofer, and wish for the young Linda Blair.

  16. The idiot can’t even tell that the presidential candidate isn’t vetted either.

    Isn’t that what the primary is for? That’s where Ayers and Wright first came up. In McCain’s 2000 primary, it’s where the Keating 5 first came up. The president’s most important job, like a CEO’s, is appointing people. Judging from the way his primary organization is run, McCain is doing a piss poor job of it. That was Hillary’s downfall as well, except she fired incompetent people (though too little, too late).

  17. Matt, I’ve been hearing the people who’ve been planting these stories about Gov.Palin, are a bunch of ex-Romney supporters who went to work for McCain. In doing so, in the event that McCain loses, they are trying to discredit Palin and are setting up for Romneys 2012 bid.

    Not one to talk gossip, but only sharing it because I was on the tax dump known as the metro the other night. Talking to someone about this.

  18. A number of Gov. Palin’s staff have not had her best interests at heart, and they have not had the campaign’s best interests at heart,” the McCain insider fumed.

    Given the way Palin’s campaign was mishandled ($150K shopping spree, etc.) the idea that staffers were sabotaging her is more comforting than the thought they were actually trying to help.

  19. Happy Jack | October 31, 2008, 12:50pm | #
    PC, it’s why I wanted it to be Jindal.

    Why not go for the twofer, and wish for the young Linda Blair.

    Truly funny, but the meme it is based upon is not really the fairest of notions. Jindal witnessed an exorcism. So? I’d like to see one of those things in action, myself. Most religious rituals are boring (especially the one concerning matrimony), but you would be lying if you said exorcism didn’t have some sex appeal. If you believe it to be superstitious, how is it any different on a scale of ridicule worthiness to a Mainliner standing in the aisle ready to consume some deep fried Jesus when he receives the wafer? A bit hypocritical here, don’t cha think? If I’m going to spend a few hours of my week in observance, damn right there better be some snakes, poisoned water and casting out of demons involved.

  20. On some important level, campaign comportment is really, really low on my totem pole of who-gives-a-rip (far below, say, attitudes and policies toward free trade, where McCain beats Obama like a gong), but after a while you look at the gross indiscipline of a political organization and begin to wonder, is the guy at the top even competent at running a large, pressure-filled organization?

    I agree with you to a large extent, but in comparison Bush’s campaign was a well-oiled machine. As the last eight years have demonstrated, that’s had little to do with his personal management.

  21. I still find it a bit odd that the Palin choice supposedly shows McCain’s bad judgment, even though she’s got an impressive (if short) record as governor. On the other hand, Obama chose Biden, a serial plagiarist/egomaniac/blowhard who’s been wrong about pretty much everything since the Nixon administration (e.g. he voted against the original Alaska pipeline), and who has made more major gaffes than McCain and Palin combined.

    Frankly there weren’t many impressive options among the major parties this year, but I don’t think Palin is the worst of the bunch we ended up with. And the irony of Obama supporters claiming Palin wasn’t vetted….

  22. Just another nincompoop proving that Senators make lousy presidential candidates.

  23. I actually mostly agree with MattY on this; the McCain campaign has been incredibly bad. However, some of the “leaks” might be fishy and their promulgation was probably done by BHO supporters.

    P.S. Here’s The Non-Partisan Case Against Barack Obama. Real libertarians may find themselves in agreement with all or most of those nineteen reasons.

  24. alan —

    re: religious observances, that’s an excellent point. Exorcism is one of those few rituals that gives the impression of still having substance behind it, instead of empty form. “We’re gonna cast us out some demons, that’s what we’re gonna do.”

    But, that is also why it is more ridiculous, from the rationalist perspective. You can envision, psychologically, many mainstream people just going through the motions and comparing clothing every Sunday, and neither understanding nor caring about things like transubstantiation and the notion that there is some quasi-cannibalistic ritual going on. You can’t really say the same about an exorcism, cause that’s some in-your-face spicy shit.

  25. alan,

    He did say he thought it cured her cancer.

  26. Why is “diva” an insult? I would totally love a diva president.

  27. Now Palin is saying the press is violating her 1st Amendment rights. Wow.

    http://blogs.abcnews.com/politicalradar/2008/10/palin-fears-med.html

  28. I still find it a bit odd that the Palin choice supposedly shows McCain’s bad judgment, even though she’s got an impressive (if short) record as governor.

    Frankly there weren’t many impressive options among the major parties this year, but I don’t think Palin is the worst of the bunch we ended up with. And the irony of Obama supporters claiming Palin wasn’t vetted….

    I think you’ve got this pretty wrong. Armed with something as simple as google, it was not difficult to determine that Palin’s performance at Gov was not terribly impressive. Of course, she’s not the worst. McCain could have picked David Duke. But she was pretty bad, and it became evident when the public vetted her for McCain.

    Furthermore, I think it was clear that Obama was a very impressive choice even four years ago. Not because of his political positions. Those things almost never really matter. But because he’s simply a very likable character.

  29. Well, she’s the most popular governor at the moment, and the last I heard even about 70% of Alaska Democrats approved of her performance. So I don’t know where you’re getting the “not terribly impressive” judgment. Compared to what other current governor?

  30. How the fuck did the Queeg-Palin ticket even happen? The delegates at the convention should have rioted, and nominated somebody from the floor.

    A lot of Republicans have been asking themselves the same question since Queeg wrapped up the nomination. Problem is, the chief alternatives were Mitt “The Great-Haired Mormon” Romney, Mike “Playin’ Bass for Jesus” Huckabee, Fred “Wake Me When It’s Dinnertime” Thompson, and Rudy “Il Duce” Giuiliani. In that light, Queeg suddenly doesn’t look so bad, does he?

  31. It occurs to me that her performance can be mediocre while remaining popular in her home state. Then again, that isn’t a terribly high bar for AK. Who could object as long as those welfare checks from the state don’t bounce and the federal pork keeps rolling in.

  32. How the fuck did the Queeg-Palin ticket even happen? The delegates at the convention should have rioted, and nominated somebody from the floor.

    McCain got lots of support from independents, even anti war independents who seemed to remember his endearing maverick ways. But being a maverick was largely self defined, and largely jettisoned when he decided he actually wanted to with for a change.

    The Palin shit, on the other hand, was gobbled up by the true believers, and is probably what keeps the ticket’s support so strong among them. Of course, it had the opposite effect with the rest of America.

  33. Well, she’s the most popular governor at the moment, and the last I heard even about 70% of Alaska Democrats approved of her performance. So I don’t know where you’re getting the “not terribly impressive” judgment. Compared to what other current governor?

    You’re about a month behind on your information. She’s dropped to 68% approval as Governor, and trending down, mostly due to getting more of a spotlight and the fact that she decided to go all tyrannical and refuse to talk to the State Congress about Troopergate. And she’s definitely not the most popular governor in the country any more, if indeed she ever was; there are at least a few who had been right nearby in the low 80s and who are still up there.

    And, taken in terms of what she’s actually accomplished, besides buying high approval ratings by handing out oil money instead of using it for state infrastructure projects, she’s pretty lackluster.

  34. I hope the problem is sabotage by conservatives who recognize the danger of the Maverick winning. Daniel McCarthy has it right in a recent Reason article, a leftward lurch won’t save the Republicans.

  35. It’s down to 61% today. Her popularity is plummeting with oil prices, as expected.

  36. Well, she’s the most popular governor at the moment, and the last I heard even about 70% of Alaska Democrats approved of her performance. So I don’t know where you’re getting the “not terribly impressive” judgment. Compared to what other current governor?

    So are Robert Byrd and (until recently) Ted Stevens qualified because they’re popular and have been reelected numerous times?

  37. Please Note: The following is NOT an endorsement of Mitt Romney. But he might not have been worse.

    I distinctly recall the volume, if not the substance, of the disdain and abuse heaped on Romney, but he can actually claim to have a demonstrable understanding of economics and business. He was a governor, which is hugely superior to the Senate for one’s resume (I believe). Prior to being elected Governor of Massachussetts, he had an actual, you know, *job*, unlike Queeg, His Changeliciousness, or the Delaware Dialectician.

    My earlier comment about a convention mutiny was actually a wish for somebody new and different, like Jeff Flake.

  38. I distinctly recall the volume, if not the substance, of the disdain and abuse heaped on Romney, but he can actually claim to have a demonstrable understanding of economics and business. He was a governor, which is hugely superior to the Senate for one’s resume (I believe). Prior to being elected Governor of Massachussetts, he had an actual, you know, *job*, unlike Queeg, His Changeliciousness, or the Delaware Dialectician.

    Agreed. The biggest problem with Romney was that his convictions tended to change dramatically with every new location.

  39. Romney was rather Clintonite and didn’t do particularly well with the Christianists. However, that would have been easily fixed by selecting Palin as a running mate…

  40. Shem: By “spotlight” I think you mean “all-out assault by the mainstream media arm of the Democratic party.” And IMHO, the Troopergate thing is pretty silly: gee, a governor tried to have fired a state trooper who drank in his patrol car and threatened to kill her father. I have a hard time getting worked up about “abuse of power” when it involves attempted firings of out-of-control cops. But maybe that’s just me.

    Mo: No, but I was commenting on the claim that a simple pre-nomination Google about Palin would have found her “not terribly impressive.” I think the opposite is the case, relatively speaking (i.e. to the extent any current governor or senator is “impressive” to a libertarian).

  41. Last June (2007) when McCain’s campaign suddenly realized it was deep in the red, and he fired pretty much every higher up in his campaign because they’d been misleading him about the financial situation.

    The next week on ThisWeek, George Will made the same point Mr Welch does above: one good thing about the ridiculously long campaign season is that it provides a good test of who can run a large organization and who can’t.

    Unfortunately, the other Republican candidates each ran into their own problems later on, so McCain was able to limp past them to the finish line. Please don’t forget that had it not been for Democrats and indies rushing to vote for TheMaverick in open primary states, Mike Huckabee probably would have gotten the nom.

    If anything, this occurrence should make the GOP rethink their winner-take-all setup in the primaries. Ideally, the system is supposed to get the party to rally around the winner very early, but the other edge of that sword is that it allows a weak candidate and weak campaign to secure the nomination by being in the right place at the right time and having a couple of good weeks in February. Remember, McCain was still not breaking 50% of the vote in most states in April, long after he had sewn up the nom!

    If there had been a fight down to the wire in the GOP, say between McCain and Huckabee, the party could have had way more confidence in the proficiency of its eventual nominee.

  42. Please Note: The following is NOT an endorsement of Mitt Romney. But he might not have been worse.

    I distinctly recall the volume, if not the substance, of the disdain and abuse heaped on Romney, but he can actually claim to have a demonstrable understanding of economics and business. He was a governor, which is hugely superior to the Senate for one’s resume (I believe). Prior to being elected Governor of Massachussetts, he had an actual, you know, *job*, unlike Queeg, His Changeliciousness, or the Delaware Dialectician.

    Hmmm Mitt Romney. Something about him really pissed me off this recent primary season. I wonder what that was?

    “Freedom requires religion, just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone,” the GOP contender said.

    Oh yeah. I’m an atheist and am tired of getting continual disrespect from many of the religious.

  43. PBrooks wrote: ” Prior to being elected Governor of Massachussetts, he had an actual, you know, *job*, unlike Queeg, His Changeliciousness, or the Delaware Dialectician.”

    Yeah, I understand our current President had a few jobs before being elected Governor of Texas.

    Fat lot of good that did us.

  44. Bush ran every business he ever had into the ground. Romney is different because he was actually successful.

    I’ll also add the disclaimer that I think Romney would have been an awful candidate (though perhaps not as bad as McCain). Heck, Ron Paul probably would have made a better candidate than either, and he’s terrible at politics.

  45. Hahaha! What was that? Oh man, I can’t believe I missed this on the news.

    “I think we all know”

    Wow. Just wow. We are quickly approaching rock bottom.

  46. “In McCain’s 2000 primary, it’s where the Keating 5 first came up”

    Mo – are you serious? was that the first time you’d heard of that?? that was already known – it happened in something like 1987 (and the S&L failed in something like 1990)… or is it cuz i lived in ohio at the time, and wasn’t John Glenn involved,too…?

  47. I had the strangest dream last night…

    It all started rather innocently. A highly confrontational afternoon business meeting with Gov. Palin and her staff ran late and eventually all of our colleagues had to leave. With a hard and fast deadline approaching we found ourselves charged with the task of hammering out the details, alone in the Governor’s mansion.

    I don’t know if it was the deliciously different taste of the homemade Moose Burgers, the exotically wild atmosphere that prevails when wall hung antlers are illuminated by the sensual flicker of candle light, or the scary yet exciting risk of negotiating one on one with a powerful opponent who could easily field dress me at a moments notice, but one thing led to another, and well, let’s just say it was time to change the sheets anyway.

    The dream both haunts and excites me. I don’t want to vote for her, but yet, I do!

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