Mac & Sleeze: When Serving Kinder Gentler Compassionate Conservatism Just Won’t Do?

With John McCain as the inevitable Republican nominee, voters may believe we’™re moving beyond choreographed character assassinations and stealth swiftboating strategies. My hunch is that the GOP’™s new approach will include John McCain appearing to take the high road while the usual suspects redouble their efforts to eviscerate the enemy.

Commentary By: Daniel DiRito

MacSleezeThose hoping for a kinder gentler presidential election complete with a heaping helping of compassionate conservatism might want to prepare themselves for a plate of partisan politics that will be far less palatable. I find myself suspecting that the GOP may be laying the groundwork for a bait and switch strategy aimed at satisfying voters newfound penchant for a civil campaign.

With the emergence of John McCain as the seemingly inevitable Republican nominee, voters may be under the impression that we’™re moving beyond choreographed character assassinations and stealth swiftboating strategies. My hunch is that the GOP’™s alternate approach includes John McCain appearing to take the high road while the usual suspects redouble their efforts to eviscerate the enemy.

I’™ll try to explain. This week, we may have witnessed a preview of the plan. My concern is that the orchestration was evidenced in Bill Cunningham’™s introduction of Senator McCain (and his effort to define Barack Obama)’¦which was followed by Senator McCain rapidly renouncing Cunningham’™s remarks’¦even though the campaign had arranged the appearance of the raucous radio personality.

What happened before and after McCain’™s criticism seems implausible to me. How could the McCain campaign have been so oblivious to what Cunningham was going to say? Why did Cunningham almost instantly withdraw his support for the Senator’¦stating instead that he would now join Ann Coulter in supporting Hillary Clinton? One, I can’™t imagine the McCain campaign didn’™t discuss the introduction with Cunningham. Second, I doubt anyone who is so well connected to a campaign such that they are chosen to introduce the candidate makes such an instantaneous about face. Hence, it’™s important to analyze his actions; searching for the underlying objective.

Note that in shifting his support to Clinton, Cunningham has left himself room to change his mind should Obama be the Democratic candidate (the same candidate he sought to define as a soft on terror Muslim sympathizer). If we project ahead, let’™s suppose Obama is the Democratic nominee; leaving the Coulter’™s and Cunningham’™s of the GOP without a candidate. We could assume they won’™t vote’¦or we could assume something far more strategically savvy. Using Cunningham’™s own word, I look for these current outliers to suddenly announce their own ‘œkumbaya’ moment’¦the one that states, ‘œI actually supported Hillary Clinton’¦and that’™s a difficult calculation to make’¦but when I imagine an Obama presidency as the alternative to John McCain, I have to support John McCain’.

So what does this achieve? Well, it sends GOP voters two important messages. First, it says that some establishment conservatives were actually willing to support one of the most reviled Democrats (Clinton)’¦a candidate the base could never support. Second, once Obama became the candidate, those same establishment conservatives decided to come back and support John McCain’¦because Barack Obama must be worse than Hillary Clinton. So what is the conclusion GOP voters will be asked to draw? If the choice in November is between John McCain and a candidate that is worse than Hillary Clinton, they have to get out and support John McCain.

By utilizing this approach, it allows people like Cunningham and Coulter to continue to rail against Obama as they supposedly support Clinton’¦all the while further defining Obama as worse than Hillary’¦doing the work for the McCain campaign while he keeps his hands clean and moves to higher ground. At the same time, the media darling McCain can stay below the radar and avoid being directly associated with the scorched earth strategy.

The bottom line is that the GOP desperately needs to define Obama’¦negatively. Having the GOP candidate do this dirty work isn’™t ideal in 2008 given that a majority of voters don’™t seem inclined to accept more of the partisanship fostered by the likes of Karl Rove. If this can be achieved by unattached surrogates who also have the ear of those Republican’™s less apt to be enthused with a McCain candidacy, all the better.

If they succeed, then the entire GOP can sit down at the table’¦together with the independent and moderate voters they must have to win in November’¦ready to indulge in the equivalent of a twice baked batch of kinder, gentler, compassionate and conservative, comfort food’¦a delectable dish of ‘œKrafty Mac & Sleeze’.

Cross-posted at Thought Theater

Thursday, February 28th, 2008 by Richard Blair |

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