03/21/2007 02:26 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Leaked GOP Memos: McCain

The leaked strategy memos of Giuliani, McCain and Romney stirred a tempest earlier in the campaign. We have now obtained copies of the redacted material from those documents and excerpts from similar memos to other declared and potential Republican candidates. We cannot vouch for their authenticity. But they sound candid--and all too true. Starting today, in the first of four installments, we present them here one by one in the spirit of Jonathan Swift, who, in his Modest Proposal, suggested that the Irish save themselves from famine by eating their children, and was taken seriously by the credulous and the censorious. After all, the Republicans, amid a famine of performance and ideas, today seem on the verge of cannibalizing themselves.

From the McCain Memo

You have to fool the "nutters" in the primary. Just as Bush fooled moderates in the general election with "a compassionate conservatism" that soon wasn't, you have to come across as a passionate conservative on social issues--from abortion to stem cell research to prayer in school and gay marriage. Nice shift already on the last of these--when you moved from opposing a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage to allowing that you might support the amendment if more states actually allow gays to get married. It doesn't matter what you really think; just keep humming "Hail to the Chief." This means that most of the time, when you come to a fork in the road, the "Straight Talk Express" has to turn right.

Being seen with Jerry Falwell may hurt you some in the polls; but as you learned in 2000, when Bush ground you down after you won in New Hampshire, institutional forces matter more in the fight for the Republican nomination. In South Carolina, the killer primary last time, you not only have Senator Lindsay Graham supporting you again, but a lot of the hard conservatives who supported Bush the last time you ran. You may think they're mindless, but keep asking them what they think. You showed fortitude when you enlisted the support of the Wyly brothers, who paid for ads smearing you in 2000 and the Swift Boat ads smearing Kerry in 2004. It doesn't matter that you had to return their money because they're caught up in a financial scandal. Just keep swallowing hard and scooping up as much support as possible from the religious right and the Bushies. (Have you thought of asking Jerry Falwell--privately of course--to pray at your Inauguration?)

Throughout this process, you can and should occasionally demonstrate an independent streak. It was smart to bypass that conservative political action dinner in Washington. Those people are irreconcilables largely because they detest your leadership on campaign finance reform, which limits groups like the NRA from spending millions on "independent' attack ads. You can't flip on this; it would be one flip-flop too far. The animus of the professional beltway "wingers" isn't rooted in their skepticism about the authenticity of your social conservatism; otherwise they never would have cheered the thrice-married, gay-friendly Giuliani to the rafters. (They'll turn on him eventually. Be careful never to hint that you might jam a Giuliani vice-presidential choice down the gagging throats of the Republican Convention.).

Your biggest problem isn't, as many in the press are writing, that you're too old. What matters isn't your age, but your performance on the trail. Start every morning with four power bars. . .

Your biggest vulnerability is your support for the Iraq War. You're not alone in this; but your insistent public demand for more troops has turned you into the face of the surge. To be blunt, there's a poster in the electorate's eyes showing you, finger pointed, saying: "Uncle John Wants a Surge." I know that you never thought Bush would do this when you put yourself in a box by saying the only choices were more troops or failure, but then Bush closed the lid. You are where you are; if and when the surge fails, you can say you were still right: we just didn't send enough troops soon enough. We've reached the point where it's too late to send more--and we have to salvage what we can while ending our involvement in Iraq. If you can make peace with the Wyly Brothers, you can make peace with saying this if and when the time comes. But say it carefully: Bush has dissed his own father, so he might be willing to tolerate a little more dissing from you. The last thing he wants is a Democratic Administration that investigates and reveals what really happened in this White House.

[There's a note scrawled here in the margin that says: "That's for sure!" It's signed "Dick Cheney." McCain has been critical of him. Did he use the Patriot Act or e-mail tapping to get hold of this memo? And did he leak the document, or assign the job to someone else in his office who doesn't mind being thrown under the bus?]

. . . Finally, there is that damn bus, your bus with all those reporters. Fly whenever possible. When you can't, stick to your 25 or 30 memorized answers; we'll freshen the formulations and give you a few spontaneous remarks for each day. "Straight Talk" is the slogan we've stuck with--but it will only get you there if you stay on the straight and narrow.