David Brooks on McCain: Don't be a Player Hater ...

Matt Lewis
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Posted: Aug 19, 2008 9:22 AM
Since early July, when Steve Schmidt took the reigns of the campaign, John McCain has turned a corner.  It started with the "celebrity" ad, and the momentum continued with McCain's excellent performance at Saddleback.  Simply put, McCain has won the last month.

Taming the unexpurgated candidate couldn't have been easy, but Schmidt's imposed message discipline has finally allowed McCain to drive a consistent message -- and control the agenda.  

Candidates are reluctant to listen "handlers" -- and this is especially true of a candidate who has made it this far by breaking all the rules.  It reminds me of a story I read about Ed Rollins, who, when managing Ross Perot's campaign, finally threw his hands in the air in frustration at the unorthodox candidate -- who would go on Larry King Live without bothering to inform his own staff -- and (paraphrasing here) said to Perot: I'm not trying to run a traditional campaign, I'm just trying to run a campaign...

In today's NYT, David Brooks does a good job of charting the recent evolution of McCain's campaign.  There is no doubt that the candidate is less like the un-edited McCain of old (I can't remember the last time he was on a blogger call, for example) -- but he is finally winning.  As a writer, I personally wish McCain would get back on the phone, but I must confess that if I were advising him, I'd tell him to do precisely what Schmidt is telling him to do.

And as Brooks points out, the change in style has less to do with McCain's desire to run this sort of campaign than it does with the realization that -- in this media environment -- the old McCain style couldn't win.  As they say, McCain didn't write the rules, he just abides by them.  So I suppose we should refuse to be player-haters and get used to it ...