Open warfare has broken out between John McCain’s campaign management with one faction backing Steve Schmidt, the Karl Rove protégé who came on board in July, and the other standing behind Rick Davis, McCain’s long-time campaign manager.
According to two independent sources working inside the campaign, it was Schmidt and his faction who directed last week’s disastrous foray into the politics of smear and hate, causing a near-collapse in support for McCain among independents and undecided voters as well as what passes for the right wing’s intelligentsia who write Op-Ed’s for Very Serious Newspapers.
By week’s end, Davis almost reasserted control over the campaign and its message.
On Sunday, Sen. Lindsay Graham said McCain would trot out a new economic policy message on Monday, which was Davis’ doing. By Monday morning, Schmidt had the campaign announce no such rollout was planned, asserting that the candidate would continue to push its already announced plans to get the economy back on track. Then, Tuesday morning with Davis back in charge for a moment – surprise! – McCain shows up in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia suburb, to give a speech touted by campaign flacks as unveiling a “new economic proposal.”
But not quite. The new initiative is simply a sliced-and-diced rehash of a previously-announced program to have Treasury buy up mortgages at face value from banks and then renegotiate them with homeowners based on the current value of the property along with a few other pandering goodies aimed at seniors but which would have no real impact on their financial well-being.
Capping off the most bizarre 48 hours in McCain bizarre campaign history, economic advisor Douglas Holtz-Eakin actually had the audacity to tell reporters accompanying the campaign that the plan was always for the candidate to unveil the proposal today. I guess Holtz-Eakin forgot to tell McCain over the weekend, or on Monday to the spokespeople who pooh-poohed the idea that a new economic plan was forthcoming.
“No Adults Are In Charge”
“Between the infighting and the lack of direction and no consistent message, it’s obvious no adults are in charge,” a long-time friend who has been one of my sources inside the McCain campaign since the primaries complains bitterly. “Given what’s happened with the financial collapse, I’m not sure we could ever win this thing. But Schmidt and Davis aren’t helping.”
“It looks as if we’re going down in a hail of bullets, except it’ll be two sides of the operation firing at each other,” he sighs resignedly. Unabashedly mixing metaphors, he concludes, “All we need is a guy in a toga standing in the middle of the room playing a fiddle while the campaign burns.”
Out in one of the few still-disputed swing states, another long-time contact inside the McCain operation says the disarray is affecting day-to-day work.
“I get contradictory e-mails and text messages all day long,” she says. “I can’t direct workers or volunteers when Alexandria (Virginia, where McCain’s campaign is based) can’t set a direction and stick to it for more than a few hours.”
I ask her why she thinks this is happening; after all, Republican presidential campaigns have a reputation of being smooth running, well-oiled machines going all the way back to Nixon in 1968.
“Because the internal numbers are worse than the public polls, the horse race stuff that cable news loves,” she explains ruefully. “Much worse. They’re grasping at anything.”
What I’ve been hearing from McCain sources for the past month reminds me of what I read in The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire in school about 100 lifetimes ago. Apparently, it’s dawned on others, as well.
My friend Pete in Florida, a Viet Nam vet and as rabid an anti-Republican as he is a rabid Cubs fan, sent an e-mail yesterday morning observing, “I find myself wondering what the ancient Romans thought when they finally realized their Empire was collapsing around them and the (remaining) choices weren’t going to save their ass. It must have made for very interesting dinner conversations.
Photo: Steve Schmidt (left) and Rick Davis (right)
“As for me, I’m outtahere,” he continues, reminding me that he and his dazzling Brazilian girlfriend plan to move to Sao Paulo if McCain is elected. “At least I have an exit strategy, which makes me fifty times smarter than every Republican on this planet.”
So it has come down to this: The McCainiacs are fighting over whether to smarm the opposition or shovel out recycled, already-discredited proposals to an unsuspecting public while calling them “new.” It reads like the last days of somebody’s empire, alright.
It didn’t have to come to this. I’m just old enough to remember an era when House and Senate leaders from both parties squabbled like angrily over legislation during the day before meeting every Thursday for a cordial evening of Scotch, Texas beef and poker at the White House with Lyndon Johnson. Between dinner and “G’night, boys,” deals were cut and everyone went home friends.
“When I was a young Senate staffer, the place was inhabited by real leaders who actually cared about the nation they served,” Florida Pete, who classifies himself as a recovering Republican, writes. “Today, ‘they’ only care about their ideology and their ability to secure money. We are being sold out by our own narrow-mindedness, stupidity, greed and gods.”
It sounds as if even the McCain campaign is being sold out by the same forces.
If you’re born in Milwaukee, you are born a Democrat. And so I gravitated naturally to liberal politics, first as journalist and then an activist. I’ve been writing since I was eight years old and, after working in newsrooms for far too long, I have devoted much of the past decade as an independent investigtative journalist. When not writing about politics or George Bush, I scribble out essays on the peculiarites of modern times.
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