I thought I’d seen everything with Bob Dole’s blundering “I-deserve-to-be-elected-because-it’s-my-turn” schtick in 1996. He had no message. There were literally dozens of things that could have been used in opposition to then-incumbent President Bill Clinton (not the least of which were Hillary’s failed putsch of medical care, the beginning of what would be an eight-year string of scandals, and the public’s throw-the-bums-out sentiment in the 1994 Congressional elections that gave the Republicans control of Congress for the first time in decades).
It didn’t matter. Dole used none of these. His timing was off from the get-go. He never mustered any momentum – much less enthusiasm – among conservatives, and he was trounced in November.
McCain’s “strategies” (if you can call them that) and his timing are starting to feel eerily familiar. He seems to have no sense of the public’s sentiment. This is either a failure of his advisors, or it is his own impenetrability. Either way, it is hurting him badly.
Case in point – muzzling Sarah Palin days after a mesmerizing performance at the Republican National Convention. Just when the public – especially the voting public – especially the undecided voting public – needed to hear more from and about Governor Palin, she was whisked off somewhere in a fashion reminiscent of Buckingham Palace’s clandestine preparations of a bride for the Prince of Wales.
Second example: as the financial markets were in meltdown two weeks ago, McCain announced that he was “suspending his campaign” to go to Washington and deal with the crisis. Even supporters found themselves wondering, huh? First of all, no one expected the bailout talks to last more than a few days. Was attending to the business of governance for a day or two or three really a “suspension” of his campaign? Instead of lending gravitas, it just made McCain look silly – particularly when his campaign was “unsuspended” just a day or two later. It also allowed Obama to score points with his pithy observation that a president should be able to do more than one thing at a time.