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Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Why Davis Matters

crossposted at MyDD

I think by now we all know about the revelation that Rick Davis, intrepid McCain campaign manager, was also (through his firm) quietly on the Freddie Mac payroll as recently as last month. I’ve also seen some allegations that this just won’t reach a lot of voters; that they won’t care, that it won’t make a difference.

My feeling is that this is a serious blow to McCain, and it’s a blow that’ll keep on hurting longer than some people think it will.

Why? Read on.

I’ve got four basic reasons here (plus a bonus point or two). Some of them are immediately obvious (so obvious that we may not need to use them in an attack); some are things we’ll need to trot out at the right time. Some of them are just reinforcing things the public already thinks they know.

1) “Out of touch”/”Liar”: This reinforces both narratives about McCain. Either he had no clue what his own campaign manager was doing, or he lied about it. Let’s say what Davis was doing was actually fine; it still doesn’t excuse McCain either not knowing or lying about it. Everything that builds this narrative helps.

2) “Lobbyists”/”Corruption”: Obama has been hammering McCain on his ties to lobbyists. McCain claims no lobbyist will get past the White House gates. As silly as that sounds, with all the lobbyists associated with his campaign, McCain still had the weak response that all of them were EX-lobbyists and therefore could be excused because they’d given that life up for a new career of public service. This blows that out of the water.

3) Pay for access: The NYT did a huge service by including this. This is (to my way of thinking) different from “merely” being a lobbyist. They weren’t paying Davis to lobby; they had him on retainer (to the tune of half a million dollars) merely because he was close to someone who (at the time the deal started) was merely a potential candidate for the Presidency. It’s one thing to hire a guy and send him off to lobby for you. It’s another to pay him nearly half a million just on the chance that he might be close to the President a while later.

4) “I learned my lesson”: This is the response I expect when Keating 5 comes up. McCain will say “yes I did foolish things, but I learned my lesson back then and I don’t do things like that anymore because I’ve seen the harm it does. I’m all changed and reformed now”. This blows that out the window. All Obama need do is reply, “oh, you learned your lesson? Does keeping a lobbyist on your payroll — a lobbyist for an organization you yourself claimed was part of the problem — show that? Really?” and mock away. This is the one that works for us even if the media completely buries the story for whatever reason; it can be trotted back out as a Keating 5 counter-counter whenever necessary.

Bonus points (these are things that don’t directly hurt McCain, or that we can’t weave into an attack ourselves, but definitely help the good guys):

1) Media credibility. McCain’s camp went nuts on the NYT a few days about. It’ll play to the base; bashing the media always plays to the base. But to undecideds, what they see is, McCain says NYT not journalists. NYT then shows they are journalists. Advantage NYT. If this was an opinion piece it might reinforce the “in the tank” narrative. But this is simple straightforward reporting of the facts. Outside the base that thinks facts are really just opinions too, this plays up media credibility.

2) Drama. Obama’s campaign is famously no-drama. McCain’s has managed to be at least somewhat low-drama compared to some of the meltdown campaigns we’ve seen. This throws a big monkey wrench into the works over there. I personally hope Davis stays — I haven’t seen a lot of evidence of real competency over there, and I worry that they might replace him with someone better — but either way, now there’s drama and things are thrown off message and if there were any internal resentments this will escalate them.

3) Message discipline. If this gets played up at all, and even if everything else on the list is wrong, the McCain campaign is driven even further off-message by this. They’re busy bandaging more self-inflicted wounds while Obama is able to keep hammering away.

As usual, when the McCain campaign screw it up, they manage to hit all the bases. Decry lobbyists, then turn out to be run by an active lobbyist? Check. Decry Freddie Mac, then turn out to be way too closely linked? Check. Get painted as liars, try to counter it, and turn out to be lying even more? Check. Attack the media in such a way that it pivots into strengthening the media and damaging yourself? Check. Throw yourself off message for a few days? Check. Ruin your own best defense to a scandal card that Obama has yet to play? Check.

I don’t think it’s the death blow for McCain; the base can’t win the election, but they can keep it close, or close enough for the media to claim a horse-race. But I do think it’ll matter to a lot of voters — and, even to the extent that it doesn’t, it hurts McCain in a lot of other ways.


  1. semiquaver

    this makes the McCain campaign look really bad, especially when they’re making labored accusations that Obama has ties to these industries, when it’s pretty obvious that McCain is much worse in that regard.  

    Even an extreme right winger who thinks the NYT is hopelessly biased can’t possibly buy the claim that America’s paper of record is ‘not a journalistic organization’.  Obama gets to sit back and appear calm and presidential while McCain and his surrogates throw a temper tantrum because a newspaper reported some facts.  I’m beginning to feel pretty optimistic about this race, even though I’m afraid the knives are going to really come out now that McCain’s in a corner.

  2. fogiv

    We haven’t yet seen a disection of the Keating 5 “issue”, either from Obama/Biden HQ or the MSM yet.  A little skirting, maybe but not much.  If, when, and how do you think it will manifest?  

    I was thinking that maybe this bomb would get tossed at one of the debates, but if it were, I think we’d need to dust it off a little and reintroduce it to the public.  

    Lots of younger voters won’t know about it, much less the ins and outs of McCain’s role.

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