September 6, 2008


An Adviser Puts His Stamp on the McCain Campaign (JIM RUTENBERG and ADAM NAGOURNEY, 9/07/08, NY Times)

[T]he campaign’s new tone has been jarring to some veterans of Mr. McCain’s previous presidential run who worry that the campaign exudes a cynicism that undercuts the senator’s old reputation for “straight talk” and a more elevated style of politicking. On a number of occasions, Mr. McCain’s campaign advertisements have been described by campaign watchdog organizations as false or misleading, particularly those attacking Mr. Obama on tax votes.

And the level of aggressiveness and risk-taking advocated by the hard-charging Mr. Schmidt leads to misses as well as hits; it certainly stands in contrast to the more orderly, controlled campaign they are facing.

“It’s quite different, often strikingly so, sometimes alarmingly so,” Todd Harris, who was an adviser to Mr. McCain’s 2000 campaign, said of the tone now compared with the tone then. “But it’s important to realize that we lost in 2000, so I’m not sure we’re in any position to give lectures about how to effectively win a national election with John McCain.”

It was just that sort of thinking that led Mr. McCain to give Mr. Schmidt, and his street-brawling style of politics, such prominence.

Mr. Schmidt is not quite a grand political strategist or tactician like Mr. Rove. His role for Mr. Bush in 2004 was running the war room — orchestrating often savage attacks on opponents, responding instantly to breaking news, digging up damaging information and pushing back on any criticism — and that shoot-first mentality infuses the culture of the retooled McCain campaign.

But with a drill sergeant’s hectoring and a football coach’s motivating, Mr. Schmidt, a thick tower of man with a shaved head who can go from jovial to belligerent in an instant, has largely imposed on Mr. McCain’s once loose and feuding campaign the Bush tenets for success: relentless consistency in a combative message honed to disqualify opponents, hammered home by a campaign with clean lines of command.

“He brings a single-minded intensity and focus to the campaigns he’s involved in,” said Howard Wolfson, who oversaw the war room of Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as an adviser in her presidential campaign. “He’s the guy who knows the value of waking up every day and knowing what you are going to say at end of the day about your candidate and your opponent.”

Mr. Schmidt is considered by members of both parties to have a superior sense of a greatly altered news media environment, caused by the proliferation of political Web sites and blogs, providing all different ways of getting out information. This new environment, Mr. Schmidt has told friends, is easily manipulated because of round-the-clock thirst for news, increased competition, lowered standards created by the proliferation of outlets and hunger for the outrageous.

It was Mr. Schmidt, a fan of both pop culture and Ultimate Fighting, who pressed for the campaign to include Britney Spears and Paris Hilton in advertisements attacking Mr. Obama, aides said. It was Mr. Schmidt, they said, who pushed to drive blogs and other media organizations to present Mr. Obama’s outdoor convention setting as a pretentious temple by circulating photographs of columns and sending out a news release calling it the “Temple of Obama,” which were gobbled up by Web sites and cable television shows.

“He can recognize the absurdity of politics, and is an occasional practitioner,” said Brian Jones, who served with Mr. Schmidt on the Bush campaign and, for a time, on the McCain campaign. “He understands how people relate to politics in a real tactile way. Why would this guy build a stage set that looks like a Temple of Zeus?” that they let Rick Davis run that awful Convention.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 6, 2008 2:56 PM
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