Quite a bit of turmoil in Team McCain of late. There is senior advisor Steve Schmidt -- who I know very well from his time as Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2006 re-election campaign manager, having had many long talks with him about politics and the current White House -- taking over most operational control of the McCain campaign. And there has been a major Mike Murphy factor, with the frequently erroneous neocon propagandist Bill Kristol opining in his New York Times column yesterday that Murphy -- McCain's 2000 strategist who I also know quite well, from his tenure as a strategist in the successful Schwarzenegger recall campaign of 2003 and disastrous special election initiative campaigns of 2005 -- will soon arrive to save the day for Johnny Mac.
Well, that doesn't look like it's going to happen, as Atlantic blogger Marc Ambinder pointed out this morning.
Let's cut through the spin from Murphy and others, and focus on the real deal here.
Contrary to what Murphy's been saying, he did not help recruit Steve Schmidt -- who ran the Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign war room and was then counselor to VP Cheney -- for Arnold Schwarzenegger. That was, ironically, given her status as a big Barack Obama backer now, California First Lady Maria Shriver. (I'll get into all this in an upcoming HuffPost piece.) Schmidt's influence is already evident with McCain's latest new TV ad, which begins running today.
Schwarzenegger, by most every informed account, was furious with Murphy and totally dismissive of him after the 2005 election debacle -- in which he championed four losing California special election initiatives and came off as a figure of the right rather than the center -- blaming him and right-wing communications director Rob Stutzman and chief of staff Pat Clarey. All three -- Murphy, Stutzman, and Clarey -- were dismissed not long after the defeat.
Schwarzenegger was also perturbed with Murphy for stupidly advertising the Arnold connection in his lobbying work by using Arnold's picture as a logo on every page of pitch memos for corporate clients. And, contrary to what Murphy is saying, Schmidt and Murphy did not work at all together on the Schwarzenegger re-election. Murphy was out, and nowhere to be seen around Team Arnold.
Ironically, given Murphy's criticism of the McCain campaign being too "Rovian," Murphy had helped drag Schwarzenegger to the right. According to a key advisor, Murphy encouraged Schwarzenegger about a potential constitutional amendment that would have enabled the Austrian-born former action superstar to seek the presidency. In order to seek the presidency, in this scenario, Schwarzenegger would need to be more in favor with the Republican Party than he had been.
In another irony, it was Schmidt, the Karl Rove protege, who helped move Schwarzenegger back in the other direction, towards the center-left sweet spot of California politics, urging that he sign the landmark AB 32 climate change package authored by then Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and LA Assemblywoman Fran Pavley when other advisors were telling him no. Of course, all these guys are total pragmatists. Anyone who thinks the elite Republican consultants are ideologues of any particular stripe is in for an awakening.
Some around Schmidt say that he, like the other top guys around Schwarzenegger in Arnold 1.0, i.e. the dramatic 2003 California recall campaign -- Don Sipple, who actually did recruit Murphy for AS and then found him constantly promoting himself as the key guy, George Gorton, and Bob White -- thinks Murphy is a showboater, a guy whose first inclination is to put himself on the plane to BS with and get close to the candidate.
I'm told by a personal friend of McCain's that he knows this about Murphy, but still kind of misses him.
I came to know Murphy pretty darn well. And warned him at Schwarzenegger's 2003 inaugural festivities that the big California lobbying operation he was then setting up was a mistake, though of course now he tells the credulous "national," i.e., East Coast press that he's never been a lobbyist.
Nonetheless, Murphy is a very smart and amiable strategist. As well as a master schmoozer of the press.
He does have good advice for McCain. McCain simply can't win in this environment with the base-oriented strategy he's been pursuing. But is Murphy the only one who can tell him this? Or is it so obvious that anyone can do that?
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