There are two principal reasons why John McCain has caught Barack Obama in the national polls. 1) McCain has changed the whole conversation about this election into one question - do you want to vote for or against Obama? This is genius. Obama needs to switch the conversation if he wants to win. 2) Obama has only played defense so far and has not attacked at all. This is weakness and a sure-fire way to lose an election.
The question in this election should be whether Americans want another four years of Republican rule. We just went through a disastrous eight years and the Republican nominee agrees with the president who brought us that disaster on nearly every single issue. McCain wants even more tax cuts, even more war, even more rights for oil companies and even larger deficits. Do the American people want four more years of that?
Instead, right now the only conversation is about whether Obama is qualified to be president or not. I think McCain's ads in this regard have been comical. They have flat-out sucked. But that doesn't matter. Because the only thing that matters is the conversation itself.
If Obama doesn't change the topic, he gives up an enormous advantage he has, which is the American people are grossly dissatisfied with the Republican Party (even the chairman of the NRCC is telling Republican Congressman to run away from their own party). Make the election about Republicans.
Secondly, Obama has not attacked at all. This is the same mistake Kerry made. He could have pounded Bush for all of his mistakes; instead he hardly laid a glove on him because he wanted to run a positive campaign. That's ridiculous.
There is a difference between hard hitting ads and negative campaigning. In my mind, negative campaigning is when you make stuff up about the other guy (like McCain did about Obama not visiting the troops in Germany because he couldn't bring cameras) or go after him personally (like McCain did when he compared Obama to Britney Spears). But going after your opponent's record isn't negative campaigning; it's explaining why it's a bad idea to vote for the other guy. That is part and parcel of a political campaign.
Should McCain go after Barack Obama for flip-flopping on FISA and off-shore drilling? Absolutely. There's nothing negative or unfair about that. He is pointing out his opponent's weaknesses. He would be negligent if he didn't (but don't worry, he will; I guarantee you will see an offshore drilling flip-flop ad within the week).
Should Obama go after McCain for voting with Bush 95% of time last year and 100% of the time this year? He would be an absolute idiot if he doesn't. Who cares about the nuances? That's not what voters remember. They'll remember that McCain voted with Bush almost all of the time, for whatever reason.
Obama wins simply by having this conversation. If the question is -- does John McCain blindly follow George Bush -- Obama doesn't even need to win that debate. He wins simply by having that debate. What is stuck in people's mind is how much McCain voted with Bush.
The Obama team should take this clip from The O'Reilly Factor, where McCain says he is so proud of doing everything he possibly could to get George Bush elected twice, and run it on a loop a million times over. Here is the money quote from the interview:
MCCAIN: I voted for Bush in 2000 and 2004 ... And not only that, far more important than a vote, I campaigned everywhere in America for him ... I enjoyed it. I campaigned with him. I did everything I could to get him elected and reelected president.
Here is the simplest campaign ad of all time: Show all of Bush's failures and then run McCain saying, "I did everything I could to get him elected."
I did everything I could to get him elected. I did everything I could to get him elected. I did everything I could to get him elected. I did everything I could to get him elected.
Then there is the famous quote of McCain saying he doesn't know much about the economy. What is Obama waiting for? Run this on a loop until people say, "Ok, ok, I get it, McCain doesn't know anything about the economy. Leave the poor guy alone already."
If they don't have this kind of killer instinct, they will run a stupid, mushy campaign that will get rolled over by the Rove acolytes and wonder how they got their lunch money taken again.
And by the way, they are well on their way to doing this already. The offshore drilling flip-flop was a disaster. You undermine all of your arguments, all of your surrogates and give away your strength when you agree with the other side. Watch this clip for a full understanding of why this type of concession is the best way to lose an election.
Americans want a politician who is strong. That doesn't mean a politician willing to start more wars or one who mindlessly brags about being tough on national security. It means someone who is willing to stand their ground. This is in fact almost the sole reason why Bush won the presidency twice. This was his only true advantage.
I will give you an indisputable example. John Kerry won Wisconsin in 2004 by one point. Russ Feingold voted against the Patriot Act, voted against nearly every measure that the Bush administration said was vital to protecting our national security and stood up for civil liberties when it was not in the least bit in vogue. The original Patriot Act vote was 99-1. Feingold was that 1.
Republicans said he was weak on national security, he endangered the country and cared about terrorists' rights. He won in Wisconsin in 2004 by 11 points.
Kerry won by a margin of 11,000 votes in that same year in that same state. Feingold won by a margin of 331,000 votes!
Yes, I know he was an incumbent, but so was Tom Daschle. The good people of Wisconsin voted for Feingold not because they thought he was weak on national security as the Republicans claimed but because they thought he was strong on principle. They were right.
This is the politics of strength. You stand firm. You punch the other guy in the face. You don't back down from a fight and you don't cede any ground.
If Obama doesn't learn to stand his ground and take some serious swings at his opponent, he -- and the rest of us -- will be sitting around on November 5th shaking our heads wondering what the hell happened. How could we have lost to these incompetetents? How could the American people have voted for these frauds and failures again? Well, that's because you never told them how much of a fraud and failure the Republican Party, George Bush and John McCain were!
Yes, I just called John McCain a fraud and a failure. He has switched his position on everything from tax cuts to immigration to torture. He has done this to appease the rabid Republican base. He is a fraud. He has supported the failing Bush policies of the last eight years lock, stock and barrel. He has aided and abetted Bush while he screwed up in Iraq, in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and in running our budget and our economy into the ground. John McCain is a miserable failure.
Can you imagine the Obama campaign saying any of this? That's right, you can't. And that's exactly why I'm afraid they are going to lose this election if they keep heading in this direction. I don't know if they know this, but they are running against McCain. He is their opponent. Their job is to defeat him. To beat him. To make him lose, and hence, become a loser.
This isn't some esoteric campaign of Barack Obama versus history. That's what the McCain camp wants. This is a real political fight between two real people. And until Obama realizes that and gets in the fight, he is not going to win. Take a swing, for the love of God. Show the American people you can be a man, a strong leader, someone who can knock an opponent down. This is an election dammit. Act like it.