Robert Draper's much-buzzed-about New York Times Magazine article about the chaos behind the scenes at the McCain campaign went live on the Times website this afternoon, my fellow prisoners, and it's a doozy. Not as explosive as some might have hoped, but still an interesting read. It's nine pages long, so here's the abridged version for those of you with compromised attention spans:
This summer, Steve Schmidt, the large, bald man billed as the campaign's chief strategist, was all, "Aaarrrghhh, we're losing!" Not in those words, exactly — I'm taking some creative license here — but you get the point. So he got together with his fellow strategists and strategized, as strategists are wont to do. Let's listen in:
If I might interject here: A celebrity like Ronald Reagan! Or Arnold Schwarzenegger! Or Fred Thompson, if Fred Thompson was a celebrity. Except, wait: Obama never starred in Bedtime for Bonzo or Kindergarten Cop. He was just, you know, a community organizer and politician. Pshaw! What right do politicians have running for office?
It was Sunday, July 27, and Obama had just concluded an eight-day swing through the Middle East and Europe that received practically round-the-clock media coverage. "Would anyone disagree with the premise," Schmidt went on, "that Mr. Obama has scored the most successful week in this entire campaign? I mean, they treated him like he was a head of state! So tell me, gentlemen: how do we turn this negative into a positive?"
"It's third and nine," Bill McInturff, a pollster, observed. "Time to start throwing the ball down field."
Eventually, it was Schmidt who blurted out the epiphany concerning Obama. "Face it, gentlemen," he said. "He's being treated like a celebrity."The others grasped the concept — a celebrity like J-Lo! or Britney! — and exultation overtook the room.
Anyway, John McCain and his sugar mama dug the "Celebrities are bullshit!" concept, which brings us to this:
Three days later, the new ad went up. "He's the biggest celebrity in the world," a female voice intoned, as images of Britney Spears and Paris flashed on the screen. "But: is he ready to lead?" In a conference call with reporters that morning, Schmidt framed the issue with a binary choice straight out of the 2004 playbook: "Do the American people want to elect the biggest celebrity or an American hero?"If we could pause briefly for another admittedly petty interjection: What is it with Steve Schmidt and his superfluous Americas? It's not like the American people can elect a hero of the non-American variety as their president. He's very hung up on Americans electing an American this or an American that as their American president, as we were reminded of earlier in the article in this description of a campaign commercial:
It concluded with grainy black-and-white footage of the wounded P.O.W. reciting his serial number to his captors, followed by a spoken line that Schmidt loved and adamantly defended, even when others inside the campaign argued that it made no sense: "John McCain. The American president Americans have been waiting for." Thereafter, McCain seldom wasted an opportunity to extol his own patriotism.After reading all of this, I am strongly of the opinion that Steve Schmidt has exactly one song on his iPod, which he listens to over and over again: "America, Fuck Yeah!"
Moving on to my personal favorite part of the McCain saga, Sarah Palin unexpectedly enters the fray and rallies the base (of lunatics) at the Republican National Convention with a speech that included a quote by a raging anti-Semite who once wished for the assassinations of Franklin Roosevelt and Robert F. Kennedy.
McCain staffers are pumped. They celebrate in the bar of the Minneapolis Hilton, which is every bit as sad as it sounds. One of them, spokeswoman Nicolle Wallace, even admits that she "cried throughout" Palin's speech — and in a good cry kind of way, not the "wept for the future of our country" way you'd expect. Steve Schmidt, convinced he's scored an American touchdown or landed an American knockout by persuading McCain to select Palin as his running mate, embarrasses himself by yelling "Game on!" before getting a bit more serious about the Bridge to Nowhere's #1
"Arguably, at this stage?" he observed. "She’s a bigger celebrity than Obama."Wasn't celebrity supposed to be a bad thing? Isn't this the part of the political ad where the female voice intones, as images of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton flash on the screen, "She's the biggest celebrity in the world. But: is she ready to lead?"
Getting back to Draper — and the Shanks in question is Priscilla Shanks, an actress who was hired to coach Palin in the ways of not sounding like a dolt when she spoke at the Republican National Convention...
But just as you could make too much of Shanks's quiet coaching of Palin, you could also make too little of it. The new narrative — the Team of Mavericks coming to lay waste the Beltway power alleys — now depended on a fairly inexperienced Alaska politician. The following night, after McCain's speech brought the convention to a close, one of the campaign's senior advisers stayed up late at the Hilton bar savoring the triumphant narrative arc. I asked him a rather basic question: "Leaving aside her actual experience, do you know how informed Governor Palin is about the issues of the day?"And that, in a nutshell, is why McCain appears to be McFucked, and why I laughed like Cheers was on (classic, Shelley Long era Cheers, that is) as I read Robert Draper's article.
The senior adviser thought for a moment. Then he looked up from his beer. "No," he said quietly. "I don't know."