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May 23, 2006

Making McCain Unnecessary

To continue speculating over McCain, Publius has a follow-up post that gets the once-and-future maverick's strategy just right. "I think everything John McCain does for the next two years must therefore be seen in the context of winning the GOP primary. He doesn't need to win the heart of the nation -- he thinks he has that already. But what he ain't got are the hearts of GOP primary voters." Given that set of constraints, "the consequences of what happened [Rohe denouncing him], on balance, helped him. And I think his advisors have realized that in the last few days. That's why I suspect it was a conscious decision of McCain's aide to elevate the issue by attacking Rohe."

Or so McCain's advisors believe. Mark Salter, who's name was attached to the blast against Rohe, did his job well. And it would've been nice were Rohe a savvier adversary, one who didn't muse over the thrill that would arise if she "tore McCain's speech apart before he even opened his mouth." She played into Salter's hands during their exchange. Nevertheless, her actions were necessary.

The lay of the land looks something like this. McCain's candidacy is an almost Kerry-esque appeal to electability. The GOP, anxious over low numbers and the normal pendular impulses of the American people, will override their preferences in an effort to retain power. Happens all the time: think Dean and Kerry. If McCain ceases looking electable, his soft support will bleed out amongst the rest of the field -- primary goers will vote their allegiance, not their cynicism. When does McCain cease looking electable? When his numbers among Democrats and Independents drop, creating a backlash narrative that McCain then has to react to by a) moving left and pissing off primary voters or b) moving right and pissing off everyone else.

But for that to happen, McCain needs to end up in high profile confrontation with the left as often as possible. If that makes him look more conservative, so be it. McCain will never be truly acceptable to the right, he just may be necessary. If, in making him less necessary we make him more acceptable, that's a smart tradeoff. So let a thousand Rohe's bloom. They may lose their battles, but that's the only way to fight this war.

May 23, 2006 | Permalink


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Yeah. I figure McCain thinks he has the media willing to frame everything he does as "oooh, he's such a *maverick*". So that gives him room to manuever on the right. He can spend the next 2 years giving coded speeches to Liberty University and Bob Junes and the CCC, guessing that once he has the nomination locked up, he can tack back to the middle and the press will resume treating him as the feisty independent for the general election (when most voters will start paying attention). It'll probably work, too. The trick is to start a counter-narrative, with his every pander pointed out, and his embrace of damn near every catastrophic Bush policy hung around his neck. We can make him out to be the worst kind of hypocrite - the kind that trades on their crafted reputation for honesty and independence.

Posted by: FMguru | May 23, 2006 2:53:07 AM

I disagree, even about the phrase "tore his speech apart." Its clear from Rohe's essay that she meant that in an analytic, seaching way "I tore the room apart looking for something" and not in a pompous or a rude way "I tore that guy apart." I think that, in its way, Rohe's speech worked beyond McCain's wildest fears because making McCain look old, feeble, and assholish alienates everyone who was supposed to vote for him as an iconoclast.


Posted by: aimai | May 23, 2006 6:48:12 AM

Now, he has to convince the mouth breathers that he didn't sire a black baby, didn't betray his fellow POWs and his wife is not a drug addict.
He has to start sucking up to the radio junkie too, the ditto monkeys refer to him as a liberal.

Posted by: gus | May 23, 2006 8:10:04 AM

My sentiments exactly, Ezra. Electability is always the primary concern -- Bush did well in 2000 because he appeared modertate, not because he was hard right.

The more public confrontations McCain has between now and 2008, the better. And eventually, one of those confrontations will trigger a "yeeearrrgh!" moment, to boot.

Posted by: PapaJijo | May 23, 2006 8:52:24 AM

And it would've been nice were Rohe a savvier adversary, one who didn't muse over the thrill that would arise if she "tore McCain's speech apart before he even opened his mouth." She played into Salter's hands during their exchange

I think you're internalizing Republican talking points here, Ezra. How did Rohe play into anyone's hands? Why should she be a savvier adversary, when by her account she isn't an adversary at all? She took an opportunity to publicly criticize the comments of a man who makes political speeches every week. She wasn't likely to get another. Why should McCain have yet another free forum where he can preach his nonsense unchallenged?

Open disagreement is fundamental to democracy. It's only in the last few years that rebuking a politician became considered rude or indecent. Years of free speech zones and invitation-only public meetings, where people are removed from public halls for wearing t-shirts or having the wrong bumper sticker.

The only way to reverse that trend is to stand up an be heard at every opportunity, without worrying what the talking heads will think. You and Publius want every one to keep their heads down and be polite, but if the left doesn't start standing up, the nation will continue to head hard-right.

Posted by: Mike | May 23, 2006 9:35:42 AM

Actually Mike, if you read my post, it was defense of Rohe, calling her comments necessary. I read her piece on Huffington Post and, frankly, it didn't play well with me -- it's too disconcerting to see a 21-year old (just about my age, so this isn't an age thing) musing about "what would happen if I tore apart his speech..." It played into Salter and McCain's comments about being able to listen to both sides and treat each other with respect. So, for persuasive purposes, I found her writings on the subject counterproductive. That said, I found her actual protest brilliant, and have now said so in two long posts.

Posted by: Ezra | May 23, 2006 10:32:35 AM

"it was defense of Rohe"
Sure it was a defense, but it was a heavily, qualified defense (and Publius suggested she should just keep her mouth shut).

You're demanding a lot from a 21-year old college student who's likely not used to public speaking. Her speech challenged McCain, but it wasn't rude or offensive. In return she got attacked by the aide of a sitting Senator, ("Ms. Rohe, and your fellow graduates's comical self-importance deserves a rebuke far stronger than the gentle suggestions he offered you.") Why should she be polite when her opponents playing hardball?

Posted by: Mike | May 23, 2006 10:51:54 AM

I don't see how it was heavily qualified. It was a full-throated defense of her protest with a couple sentences noting that she could've handled the aftermath better (mainly by letting her actions speak for themselves rather than overwhelming them with long blog posts).

Further, I didn't ask her to be polite, I asked her to be savvy. But then, I'm 22, so I don't tend to think folks my age need to be treated with kid gloves. I'm too used to people jumping on me when I make a rhetorical mistake or misjudgment...

Posted by: Ezra | May 23, 2006 11:10:46 AM

Oh, please, Ezra,
She did what she had to do, with grace, charm, and dignity. And every parent of a young child can only dream that their child will do as well when the moment comes. The idea that "she could have been savvier" attributes to her (and to all of us) an ability to control the implication that others put on events--to control a spin machine that has been out of control for a long time. If she'd been rude to the senator I could see your point--but she wasn't rude, not in any of her postings at huff po and the reaction from the right was a given (regardless of what she did). I think your unwillingness to praise her unreservedly is bizarre. I'm not 22 any more, and I sure wasn't asked to speak at my commencement, but I think from a somewhat older vantage point I can say that I can't think of anything I wish she had done differently. And I'm plenty savvy for my age.


Posted by: aimai | May 23, 2006 11:48:42 AM

The only way to reverse that trend is to stand up an be heard at every opportunity, without worrying what the talking heads will think.

Viva la revoluccion! That seems like a great idea for a movie, but maybe not so much for winning elections. There's a reason that Bush uses code words to signal to his base, there's a reason that the Republicans run virulent commercials in small markets in hopes of denigrating Dems without attracting national attention. And the reason is because they want to win elections.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | May 23, 2006 1:17:16 PM

I'd argue that the assumption that McCain will automatically win the presidency if he gets through the primary is only true if he manages to keep his totally deceptive image. I think its a mistake to allow this image to go unchallanged.

Posted by: Cindy | May 23, 2006 1:34:20 PM

How does it help a U.S. Senator, presidential wannabe, to get caught up in a pissing contest with a college student?

Posted by: jose padilla | May 23, 2006 1:37:41 PM

I don't think either Publius or Ezra is telling her to shut up, more that we aren't there yet. Forgive hims his rather terrible pun, but Ezra does conclude wit

So let a thousand Rohe's bloom. They may lose their battles, but that's the only way to fight this war.

Posted by: Pooh | May 23, 2006 1:38:37 PM

Am I the only one who thinks that the Reps would kick McCain to the curb if they were to become convinced that Hillary wouldn't run?

Posted by: kchiker | May 23, 2006 1:49:59 PM

I'd take that trade...

Posted by: Pooh | May 23, 2006 2:35:58 PM

Nobody in the real world knows anything about all this except that McCain got heckled at the New School. Those who think McCain suitable heckling material will cheer. Those who think "kids are rude" will shrug.

None of them will have a glimmer about what kind of venue the New School is and why therefore this was a McCain set-up.

Tempest in tea pot. I don't think there is even enough in this to sustain a tiny ripple.

Posted by: janinsanfran | May 23, 2006 2:49:27 PM

New York's NPR affiliate's political talkshow host Brian Lehrer had Rohe on as a guest on Monday. He's hosted McCain a number of times, despite Lehrer's generally liberal inclinations, and outright admitted that he'd been inclined to criticize the New School protest until he'd seen Salter's bitchy comments at the Huffington Post. Rohe did okay on the show--at some moments her comments weren't quite as quick-witted as I could've hoped, but she made her point effectively about McCain's simply repeating his stump message at multiple venues. The broader point, however, is that at least one "liberal media" outlet's take on this story shifted slightly--and I suspect that the next time McCain finds his way on WNYC, he'll be asked about the episode. It's a start.

Posted by: Jackmormon | May 23, 2006 4:25:17 PM

I honestly don't think the Republican rank and file thinks in terms of electability. They're utterly convinced that this is a conservative nation, and if a candidate espouses conservative values, they'll win. They hate the mushy middle far more than we do. The whole "compassionate conservative" Bush thing was a wink and a nod. If a candidate starts making TANGIBLE moves to the middle these guys would disown him/her.

McCain is moving far right because his handlers know the electability game won't work in the primaries.

Posted by: dday | May 23, 2006 5:59:28 PM


Posted by: no name | May 24, 2006 9:22:29 PM

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