It is not every Sunday that John McCain’s campaign sends out quotes from Arianna Huffington and NBC’s political news director. But they did this Sunday because they are on to an inkling of a theme that is penetrating the MSM. The theme of the day: why is Obama shredding his own credibility with so many flip flops?
From Huffington on ABC’s This Week, who proves yet again that there are few pundits as biting as she:
The problem has to do with, is this a winning strategy? I think it’s undercutting his brand. His brand is he’s a leader who stands up for what he believes, who can motivate people to work with him. And when he puts his finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing, it is undercutting the Obama brand.
From Chuck Todd on Meet the Press:
[W]hat it has allowed McCain to begin to paint is this narrative of, ‘You know what? This guy, Obama, you know, he makes all these promises and then suddenly he acts like a typical politician.’ And I think that a couple of more of these things and suddenly McCain might be able to sell this message that, you know, as much as you might think Obama’s going to be the guy that might challenge his Party, look at John McCain. He’s a guy that has been challenging his Party for seven years… [I]t allows McCain to start saying, ‘You know what? He’s flipping on this, he’s now flipping on guns, he’s now flipping on this other issues,’ and it possibly paints a picture of a guy who will just say and do anything to get elected.
Yowser. On Fox News Sunday, Brit Hume was exceptionally harsh as well and even Mara Liason had to concede that being the Agent of Change would have to, well, change and would take a “backseat” to some new practical political approach. (And aside from the flip-floppery issue, Joe Lieberman and Tim Pawlenty got in a few licks on the experience front as well.)
Did Obama go a flip or a flop too far? And has the media discovered Obama is not actually the harbinger of a new era in politics? I have a few theories to explain what’s going on in the media coverage. First, once Hillary Clinton departed (and they were freed from the dread of covering the Clintons for another election or potentially four or eight years) the mainstream media outlets were liberated to evaluate Obama more objectively. Now that they need not worry about helping Hillary, it really is okay to point out he’s no less craven than she. (Indeed, he is arguably even more so, since she never claimed to be holier than every politician in history.) Second, the prolonged Democratic primary made Obama’s pivot to the general election very treacherous. Believing the media would give him a pass, Obama reversed course on too many items, too quickly. The flip flop portrait was easy to paint and too hard to ignore.
And finally, let’s not forget that the Obama campaign has had a rotten run for many months. Since late February the agenda has been set by others (Hillary’s come back and demise, the flap over unconditional meetings with rogue state leaders, etc.) He didn’t end the primary strongly and he hasn’t regained control of the narrative since then. It is a truism that if a candidate doesn’t control the narrative, others will. McCain, aided by the media’s new sense of independence, has been able to keep Obama on the defensive ever since the nomination was sealed. Absent any compelling news coming from the Obama camp they remain on the receiving end of barbs and criticisms. Unless the Obama team has something new and positive to say, the space is filled up by other, far less helpful storylines. (Two words for Obama: Fred Thompson. Remember his campaign came out of an expectations-high summer with not enough to say to keep the media from dwelling on the campaign’s operational woes.) As Hume said, “One of the downsides of that is when you are a blank slate, you are open to being defined by your opponent if you can’t define yourself satisfactorily to voters before he does that.”
And then there is the tasteless propensity of the Obama surrogates to criticize McCain’s war record. It seems insane, a virtual death wish played out in the national media, but they keep repeating it. Sunday was Wesley Clark’s turn and the McCain camp, of course, made the most of it. It is stupid on multiple levels for the Obama team to keep this up. First, it reinforces the very narrative now plaguing Obama: he’s a phony who is not in the least above mean-spirited slurs on his opponent. Second, it just is not a great idea to emphasize the noble character and heroic service of your opponent. Third, it reminds everyone that Obama has done nothing comprable in his life.
So why do it? Some may conclude that the Obama team is unable to control its surrogates and “stuff just happens.” Hmm. Others may suspect that the Obama camp really hasn’t clued into the notion that it can’t say anything it wants and get away with it. Whether you buy into the inept explanation or the arrogant explanation it’s clearly giving McCain the ability to call foul. Loudly and effectively.
The mega-embarrasing Clark invective coupled with the developing meme from the MSM that Obama is killing his own brand made for a painful Sunday for Obama. The coverage is hardly ever this hostile to him. It suggests the Obama camp will need to rethink how to stop the bleeding and get back on the offensive.