12/04/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Simple Distillation Of McCain's Message Problem

One of the most important challenges in running a political campaign is distilling and defining a central message or rationale for your candidacy. Equally important is to do the same for your opponent. The best campaigns manage to effectively define themselves and their opponent.

Along those lines, one of the best little tricks I learned in managing campaigns is an exercise called the Tully Message Box, named after Paul Tully, a long-time Democratic strategist. Simply, you draw a square, divide it into four quadrants, and build your message as follows:

It's a cleverly simply method of understanding how to develop a narrative that will drive an entire campaign. It can also be used to game out specific issues and how to either press a message or defend against it.

Now, let's take the Message Box method and apply it to the presidential race:

Is there any doubt why John McCain has not been able to get traction on a single message in the general election -- either pro or con -- and why Barack Obama has not had such a problem?

Mark Nickolas is the Managing Editor of Political Base, and this story was from his original post, "The Simple Distillation Of McCain's Message Problem"