Sun Tzu says in The Art of War that every battle is won before it is fought. Declaring victory before battle, well, that’s a whole other thing altogether, but that’s exactly what John McCain’s campaign did this morning. According to Chris Cillizza at the Washington Post, McCain began running website ads in the Wall Street Journal reading, “McCain Wins Debate!” along with another ad featuring a quote from
Fannie May and Freddie Mac lobbyist his campaign manager Rick Davis, “McCain won the debate — hands down.”
I doubt that Davis has a crystal ball. I’ve worked on enough races to know they always have a message ready to go before the candidates even walk on stage. Both campaigns will declare a clear victory and both campaigns will go back to their core message to explain why. “Third party” verifiers (actually just mouthpieces for the campaign) receive their talking points well ahead of time, and if they’re very good they might include a line from the actual debate. For presidential debates these third party folks congregate together afterward in a “spin room” where they, well, spin.
But you never want the public to see how all this works.
It’s like Congress; if people knew how laws actually came about they’d lose it. This latest gaffe by McCain — declaring “mission accomplished” before even landing in Mississippi — reinforces the idea that he represents nothing more than the same “Rovian” style politics characteristic of the current administration. We’ll see how broadly the story gets covered, but I fear that most traditional journalists understand how things work well enough that something like this doesn’t surprise them.
To be fair, I’m sure Obama has ads ready to go as well, his campaign just knows better than to run them before the debate, unlike McCain’s. Earlier this week the McCain staff also screwed up by sending out a set of internal talking points to the press, and the pool report of McCain’s takeoff from DC characterized the atmosphere as “utter confusion.”
This doesn’t bode well for McCain or his chances tonight. Candidates need a clear head for these things and a campaign staff competent enough to prepare them. As I pointed out in a piece about the debates earlier today, McCain hadn’t even gone up against a stand-in for Obama as of Tuesday and his prep was mostly “on the fly.” That seems like a pretty bad idea for a night that could potentially make or break the entire race.
Just a few more hours to go now and we can stop speculating and start analyzing. Stay tuned…
Colorado Independent’s blogumnist (blogger-columnist) Jeff Bridges has worked in Democratic politics for the last 10 years, serving as communications director for two congressional races in Colorado and two governors races in the Deep South. Bridges also worked as a legislative assistant in Washington, D.C., with a focus on military and small-business issues.