McCain Campaign Staff and Bloggers: The Lovers' Quarrel Conference Call

Mary Katharine Ham
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Posted: Feb 06, 2007 5:55 PM

All right, so some would argue that McCain and the bloggers have never had enough of a relationship to qualify the current disagreements as "lovers' quarrels," but the call and the conversation the campaign staff is starting to have is a bit, "baby, come back. You know I've always loved you."

Not that that's a bad thing at all. Bloggers, as the guys on the call noted, will have an impact on the '08 elections, and McCain, despite past missteps needs to start a conversation anew. And, if McCain does win the nomination, even folks who don't love him will want to support him to the best of their ability over the Democratic nominee, for the most part. So, the campaign guys hosted the first of several on-the-record Blogger Bitch-a-thons today (Boss, am I allowed to say that?), which I think is a wise move, indeed.

We need to have it out and have our feelings validated just a bit.

David All live-blogged the call, here, and while he knocks the Musak while we were on hold, I think it was one of my favorite selections, as these things go. Very lively.

Anyway, I think the calls are the right move for the McCain folks, and we hit on all the fun issues-- McCain-Feingold, alleged hostility toward bloggers from McCain, general annoyance. Some of the answers were good, but I didn't feel like conservative bloggers' real, politely presented, substantive issues with McCain were taken as seriously as they could have been. I mean, we've got some deep-seated issues, here, that have developed over many years for some of us. There were only a few of us on the call, and I wish we could have gone longer.

The conversation we did have was productive and polite, but there was a little bit more of a pitch tone to the responses than I would have liked. Now, I know, of course, that's the point of a campaign staff in the first place. I know they believe in the guy and want to tout his assets, which are numerous, but let's go back to the lovers' quarrel analogy, which may or may not be a faulty one depending on your personal feelings about McCain.

Here's the deal. McCain wants to start a friendlier relationship with us bloggers, right?

Now, when a man goes to his angry wife or ticked off girlfriend and says, "Baby, let's work this out. What's wrong?," what does she do? She yells at him, gets some things off her chest, maybe cries a little about how little he truly cares about her, right? We got that far on the call. I'm not gonna tell you who cried.

But what's the next step? When you're talking to your girlfriend, even if you think she's being crazy and unreasonable (which I, for the record, do not think conservative bloggers are being), you have to act like her feelings are valid in order to get in good again, no? You have to say, "Baby, I know that hurt your feelings and I'm really sorry. I'm gonna try my best not to do that in the future."

What you don't say is, "But, baby, remember that one good thing I did do for you a couple months ago? Remember how we went to dinner that time? That was so sweet of me."

She will then just stare at you, tissue in hand, mascara running down her face. Favor is not won.

It sounds like I'm being super-critical, and I don't mean to be, but I think repairing this fairly rocky relationship --McCain and conservative bloggers, specifically-- requires some honesty, so there you have it. There was a tad too much of a pitch in the responses, but some of it was very good. I can't stress enough that I think the blogger calls are a great move for McCain's folks. And, they'll get better. As couples therapy goes, I think it was a decent first session, and I look forward to the next one.

So, yeah, a little bit more "Baby, I'm sorry I hurt you," would be nice, but we're getting there. Or, maybe I'm just being a girl about it.

There were several good suggestions from bloggers to the McCain camp, I thought. Rob Bluey of The Heritage Foundation suggested that McCain make a showing at a few more conservative events, as Mitt Romney did at the RSC in Baltimore last week:

"It would be very helpful to him…just the perception that he’s taking the time to be with us…that’s part of the perception that you’re trying to change,” Bluey said.

John Weaver and Terry Nelson of the McCain camp stressed that he and others are working every day to reach out to conservatives, and they understand what an important role they play. Nelson:

"You would see a lot of prominent, conservative leaders on the state level who support John McCain...I believe John McCain is the conservative candidate on the vast majority of issues in the Republican Party...It’s our hope that a lot of these opinions you see represented on your blog would change, and that’s part of what this campaign has to be about.”

Weaver Nelson also made the point that McCain has consistently campaigned for Republican candidates during election years, using the popularity with the media some of us conservatives begrudge him, to lift others. Fair point:

“I think that’s one of the great qualities of Sen. McCain... McCain has done a lot to campaign for other Republicans…I first met John McCain in 2000…and he campaigned to elect Republican candidates more than any other candidate..and has continued that ever since then in every other election.”

Paul Mirengoff of PowerLine suggested maybe McCain needs a Sister Soljah moment with the MSM. Many conservatives-- bloggers and blog-readers, particularly-- feel like he's a little too cozy with a media that spurns and mistreats the rest of us. Now, I'm the first to concede that this helps the Republican message in some cases. McCain speaks well on the war, and gets plenty of facetime and fair treatment because he's McCain. This is helpful, but many feel like he's in league with the MSM. Openly taking them to task on an issue would be helpful to him among conservative blog-readers. I wonder what he could point out? Hmmm.

Ed Morrissey's advice on McCain-Feingold really struck me as on the money:

“We’re really gonna need to have a…well thought-out discussion as to why (campaign finance reform) addresses conservative ideals…I don’t buy it and I know my readers don’t...I think we’d all love to change his mind on it, and I don't think we will…but we need to hear a better explanation than we're chasing the money and that's good because the money's the root of all evil. Because it's really not."

The fact is, the McCain abandonment of market principles in favor of government regulation in the area of campaign finance-- in the area of something as important as free political speech-- makes me wonder how strong his free-market principles really are. Would like to hear more.

His campaign staff noted that, in talking to McCain about money in politics, you really get the sense that what he's concerned about is corruption.

Several folks got down on McCain about the "Maverick" label, but Weaver pointed out that his maverickism isn't always a minus for conservatives:

“You can look at how hard he has worked in sometimes a lonely project—reducing spending...He is now a lonely voice in supporting the President, frankly, in dealing with the Iraq issue.”

So, those are my two cents. I look forward to doing it again.