Thursday, November 15, 2007

McCain Nearly Quit

Robert Draper, GQ correspondent and author of "Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush," has an interesting article in GQ about the McCain Presidential campaign - "The Unmaking of a President."

Draper takes us back a year, when McCain was the GOP's top fund-raising attraction and poised to defeat Hillary Clinton by double-digits. More than 4800 words into this summary of McCain's presidential campaign, Draper gets to the New York Times' July 10th report that "McCain had placed a call to donors while in the Senate cloakroom — which, if it involved soliciting donations, violated federal law. But it didn’t: McCain was just assuring them that the campaign was healthy despite the staff changes." As Draper puts it:

McCain was ready to quit the campaign then and there.
There is much more to this account of McCain's nearly failed presidential campaign.

The McCain campaign was supposed to model the fabled Bush '04 operation:
Bush had Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman; McCain would have Weaver and Nelson. Bush had Pioneers and Rangers as big donors and bundlers; McCain would have Admirals and Lieutenants.
Terry Nelson was Bush’s national political director.

Even in December '06 the writing was on the wall. As late as mid-December, not a single fundraiser had been scheduled for January. According to Weaver, “we’d joke that we’re turning into the Yankees:”
In other words, McCain was spending like Bush but collecting checks like Ron Paul.
Fast forward to spring '07.

On March 26, McCain told conservative critic Bill Bennett that “there are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk today, ” which CNN’s Michael Ware mocked as “beyond ludicrous.” A week later, McCain described his visit to Baghdad’s Shorja market as an unfettered stroll, when in fact he’d been escorted by twenty-two soldiers, ten armored Hummvies, and two Apache attack helicopters. As support for the war fell, so did support for McCain.

On May 13, McCain gave a commencement speech at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, a bland discourse on civility:
By all means, let us argue.… But let us remember, we are not enemies.
To critics the Liberty speech was a "calculated effort to shore up votes from religious conservatives."

If McCain was pandering to conservatives, he was doing a lousy job at it:
The campaign wasn’t attracting new donors, and all the negative press was hitting him in the pocketbook.

Unlike the McCain campaign’s chosen model, Bush ’04, no one at McCain headquarters was monitoring the discrepancy between dollars in and dollars out.

During the Bush '04 campaign Ken Mehlman developed daily, weekly, and monthly budgets for every campaign division, reviewed bank-draft statements daily, and readjusted the budgets accordingly. The McCain campaign continued to spend as if there was $150 million to burn.

Bad news continued. Anemic first-quarter showing had forced the senator to lay off nearly fifty staffers. Then there was the failed immigration reform.

At the third GOP debate in Manchester, McCain caught a break. His republican rivals went after McCain on immigration reform, but they didn't hurt him. During the town hall portion of the debate, Erin Flanagan took the microphone:
Her little brother had been killed in Iraq. “As a member of an American family who has suffered so greatly at the choices made by the current administration,” Ms. Flanagan asked the ten candidates, “I desperately would like to know what you, as commander in chief, would do…to bring this conflict to a point at which we can safely bring our troops home.”

Duncan Hunter responded first, followed by Sam Brownback. Throughout, Salter was watching McCain sitting in his chair—locked in on her, leaning into the question—and Salter could feel it coming, this is it this is it this is it…

McCain then stood and walked to the edge of the stage. “Ma’am”—and like that, it was as if there were only two people in the auditorium now, the senator with his halting voice and the young woman with her sad brown eyes—“I want to tell you thank you for your brother’s service and sacrifice to our country. We are proud of you and your endurance, and we’re proud of your sacrifice. This war—I’m going to give you a little straight talk. This war was very badly mismanaged for a long time, and Americans have made great sacrifices, some of which were unnecessary. … I believe we have a strategy which can succeed, so that the sacrifice of your brother would not be in vain. …”
A McCain Moment!

But it wasn't enough. On July 6, McCain returned from another trip to Iraq:
He was impressed with the surge’s progress, depressed by the Maliki government’s shiftlessness—but most of all, pissed off at his senior campaign staff. The second-quarter results were in. And after all assurances to the contrary, the campaign hadn’t exceeded, or even met, the paltry receipts of the first quarter. They’d brought in $11 million but spent $13 million. There was almost nothing in the bank.
That brings us to the point where McCain nearly quit.

Draper continues:
Despite his universal name recognition, his more extensive experience as a high-stakes campaigner, and his superior national organization, McCain couldn’t outraise Giuliani or Romney.

[. . .]

For all his overt admiration of the impervious “Bush model,” his had become the least Bushlike of the three leading Republican candidacies.

“I think he panicked,” says an outside adviser. “After all the challenges he’s faced, it’s almost like he expected the presidency to be a coronation.” Confronted with hard calls, the Straight Talker proved not to be a straight thinker.

[. . .]

McCain made a mistake in not being more decisive and clear.
There are things I like and there are things I don't like about Senator McCain. If Draper's article paints an accurate portrait about McCain's failure to effectively oversee the finances of his presidential effort and McCain's inability to hold staff accountable, I have more reservations about his ability to run the enterprise we call the federal government.

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