Thursday, November 06, 2008

Divided Campaign

Going into the weeks before the election, the McCain campaign was apparently bitterly divided over Sarah Palin:

Ms. Palin, who laughingly told the prankster that she could be president “maybe in eight years,” was the catalyst for a civil war between her campaign and Mr. McCain’s that raged from mid-September up until moments before Mr. McCain’s concession speech on Tuesday night. By then, Ms. Palin was in only infrequent contact with Mr. McCain, top advisers said.

“I think it was a difficult relationship,” said one top McCain campaign official, who, like almost all others interviewed, asked to remain anonymous. “McCain talked to her occasionally.”

But Mr. McCain’s advisers also described him as admiring of Ms. Palin’s political skills. He was aware of the infighting, they said, but it is unclear how much he was inclined or able to stop it.

The disputes between the campaigns centered in large part on the Republican National Committee’s $150,000 wardrobe for Ms. Palin and her family, but also on what McCain advisers considered Ms. Palin’s lack of preparation for her disastrous interview with Katie Couric of CBS News and her refusal to take advice from Mr. McCain’s campaign.

But behind those episodes may be a greater subtext: anger within the McCain camp that Ms. Palin harbored political ambitions beyond 2008.

As late as Tuesday night, a McCain adviser said, Ms. Palin was pushing to deliver her own speech just before Mr. McCain’s concession speech, even though vice-presidential nominees do not traditionally speak on election night. But Ms. Palin met up with Mr. McCain with text in hand. She was told no by Mark Salter, one of Mr. McCain’s closest advisers, and Steve Schmidt, Mr. McCain’s top strategist.

On Wednesday, two top McCain campaign advisers said that the clothing purchases for Ms. Palin and her family were a particular source of outrage for them. As they portrayed it, Ms. Palin had been advised by Nicolle Wallace, a senior McCain aide, that she should buy three new suits for the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in September and three additional suits for the fall campaign. The budget for the clothes was anticipated to be from $20,000 to $25,000, the officials said.

Instead, in a public relations debacle undermining Ms. Palin’s image as an everywoman “hockey mom,” bills came in to the Republican National Committee for about $150,000, including charges of $75,062 at Neiman Marcus and $49,425 at Saks Fifth Avenue. The bills included clothing for Ms. Palin’s family and purchases of shoes, luggage and jewelry, the advisers said.

The advisers described the McCain campaign as incredulous about the shopping spree and said Republican National Committee lawyers were likely to go to Alaska to conduct an inventory and try to account for all that was spent.

Of course, as the article says, some of this back-stabbing is natural after a failed campaign, as each of the advisors tries to avoid being stuck with the legacy of a loss. But I'd say there's been enough anonymous quotes and rumors in the news to support the idea that there was at least some amount of internal fighting going on that's greater than what we'd witness in a typically healthy campaign. I know some lefty bloggers will link to this story just to go "ha ha" or marvel at the ineptitude of the McCain campaign, but I also think these stories reveal something about McCain as a leader. Without a doubt Palin had a highly negative effect on the ticket that probably outweighed the inspiration she provided to the Republican base (at least if polls of people's opinions of her are to be believed.) But I think to some extent some people were also turned off by these stories of infighting, as they rightly wondered exactly what sort of leader permits himself to be surrounded by people who he can't quite seem to control and who are apparently engaged in shameless self-promotion. In other words, the Palin pick wasn't merely reflective of McCain's ideas on policy and the importance of policy itself (or lack of importance, I should say.) And it also doesn't merely indicate McCain's willingness to make hasty and poorly thought out decisions. Beyond that, it says something about his inability to manage the people around him. And surely there were some people thinking, haven't we seen enough of that already?

UPDATE: And in contrast, Obama's campaign provides glimpses of his leadership ability:

For a candidate who began as a novice on the national stage, Obama proved remarkably steady, anchored and unruffled. Those personal attributes, if they are indicative of presidential character, could provide the ballast that any administration needs when turbulence hits -- as it did at various times during the campaign. His temperament as a candidate suggests a president not given to highs and lows, and his campaign foreshadows a White House more orderly than those of the two most recent Democratic presidents, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

When others doubted his candidacy in the summer and fall of 2007, Obama stayed true to the course he and his advisers had set at the start of the campaign. When he suffered setbacks at the hands of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in this year's primaries, he made readjustments without rancor and kept moving forward. When the financial markets cratered in September, and Sen. John McCain scurried in different directions in response, the measured reaction by Obama and his campaign helped persuade doubters about his fitness to be president.

"They reacted very well under those circumstances, almost a model presidential candidate reaction, compared to McCain, who reacted as a maverick senator," said political scientist and presidential scholar Charles O. Jones.

Just as some voters were put-off by the erratic nature and questionable leadership of McCain, they were put at ease by the calm, cool and collected leadership of Obama. It's impossible to say with any certainty how Obama will govern as President, but what we've seen so far is very, very reassuring.

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