John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


The Real Reasons for McCain’s Resurgence

Posted on August 22, 2008



            Inside-the-beltway pundits and publications have expressed shock, shock that John McCain is currently tied or leading Barack Obama.  They attribute McCain’s success to his new campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, or to McCain’s negative ads or more darkly, to the racism of white voters. 


            But, with all due respect to Steve Schmidt, who I like a lot, the reason McCain is doing so well is not because of a suddenly smooth campaign.  It is not because of the famous “celebrity” ads, which were cute but didn’t change anybody’s mind about this election.  And I do not believe that independent voters and Reagan Democrats are turning away from Obama because of some inherent “racist” gene. 


            The American voter deserves more credit than that.  Voters make their decisions about the future of the country on a variety of factors.  Issues play a role.  Experience plays another.  Likeability is another factor.  And a Presidential candidate’s leadership ability, especially in a time of crisis, is a huge factor.


            Sometimes a candidate demonstrates his leadership through a defining act, like when Ronald Reagan grabbed the microphone during a New Hampshire debate.  Sometimes a candidate has such a long and illustrious career, such as Dwight Eisenhower, that the choice becomes easy for the voters.  Sometimes it is a debate performance, like Nixon and Kennedy or Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.   Sometimes, it is an October surprise, like the Lawrence Walsh report on Iran Contra, which sunk George H.W. Bush. 


            In this campaign, there have been five factors that have nothing to do with tactics that have helped McCain pull even or ahead of Obama, and will likely help him win this November.  Here they are:


1)    The surge worked:  John McCain bet his political career on the surge and he won.  Barack Obama bet that his opposition to the war and the surge would carry him to victory, and he lost.  McCain gained instant credibility when it became clear to most Americans that the surge policy in Iraq was working.  Obama’s inability to admit he was wrong cost him dearly.

2)    Berlin:  Obama’s speech in Berlin might have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it became a symbol of his arrogance and his overconfidence.  Americans don’t care if 200,000 Germans love you during a Presidential campaign.  They want you back home talking about their problems and their issues.

3)    Drilling:  McCain was able to get on the right side of the most important issue of the summer, oil drilling.  Obama could never get on the right side of that issue, and it made him look out of touch with voters who cared desperately about the high cost of gasoline.

4)    George and Russia:  The march of the Russian Bear into tiny Georgia brought back cold war memories and a desire with most voters to have somebody with real experience at the helm.  When you sail into stormy waters, you want an experienced captain, not a rookie who hasn’t sailed before.  Experience trumps change in times of crisis.

5)    Exit George Bush.  Obama has tried to make the campaign about the Bush administration, and has tried to link McCain with Bush.  But George Bush will no longer be President after January, and this election, like all elections, is about the future, not about the past.  No matter how much the voters dislike Bush (and that seems to be a pretty widespread sentiment); John McCain is no George Bush.  Voters get that, and that is why they are giving McCain a second look.


The thirty-second ads, the negative campaigning, the internal dynamics of the two campaigns, that all plays a role in how the voters decide who they will vote for this November. And that certainly is the storyline being pursued by the national media.  But it is the big events that really decide how voters vote, not the small tactics.  And lately, those big events have played well for John McCain.

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