In his Op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times, your longtime supporter Bill Kristol contends that your campaign has “largely frittered away” your “three-month general election head start.” Â While I don’t think you entirely wasted those three months, the conservative columnist does have a point. Â You didn’t do enough in those three months to solidify your base and establish a unifying agenda for the fall campaign, one which can bring together conservatives and independents eager for change.
In those three months, you did do some things right. Â I think your biography tour was a stroke of political genius, helping to define who you were by what you’ve done (and experienced).
Not just that, in a series of speeches, you’ve put forward several pretty solid policy proposals, offering remedies consistent with conservative principles to some of today’s problems. Â While your Democratic opponent may run on the mantra of change, you’re the one who has come up with the most new ideas. Â (He just offers the same-old, same-old from the Democratic stock of state solutions, increased government spending, higher taxes and less freedom.)
That said, Kristol is on the money he writes that your “campaign this year desperately needs a message and a narrative that is both appropriate for the candidate and for the times.” I think he must be referencing Yuval Levin’s piece which he published in the Weekly Standard: A Theme for McCain’s Pudding.
That, I believe, is the first thing you need do, develop a campaign theme. Below the “jump,” I provide some other ideas which, I believe, will help prepare you for the fall campaign:
(1) Given your opponent’s repeated flip-flops, particularly on some of the big issues of this campaign, point out the policies you’ve consistently advocated over the years, notably national security. Â I mean, at least two (indeed, almost three) years before the president implemented the “surge” which has proven successful in Iraq, you pressed him to advocate a similar shift in strategy. Â Your recent trip to Cartagena reminded me that you have long advocated free trade. Â With Obama flipping, flopping and flipping on NAFTA, remind voters of your consistent support of open markets — and explain how they benefit our economy.
And remember to stress your longtime support of budget cuts and your opposition to congressional earmarks.
This will not only show you believe in something (and have acted on those beliefs) , it will also provide a contrast to your opponent’s opportunism.
(2) I know there’s some bad blood between you and Rush Limbaugh, but you need to meet with him, whether for an on-air interview or an informal discussion. Â Reading the (surprisingly even-handed) New York Times magazine piece on the talk show host reminds us (yet again) of his enduring appeal on the right. Â Democrat attacksÂ notwithstanding, Rush has long honored those who have served in our armed forces. Â He will definitely appreciate your service — and your sacrifice.
When you sit down with Rush, remind him of the common ground you share, particularly on national security matters and federal judges.
(3) You also need to keep meeting with social conservatives and remind them of the common ground you share on the role of the judiciary. Â But, don’t pander to them as some Republicans have done in the past. Â Fred Barnes is wrong that you should make an issue of gay marriage. Â Just say, as you have, that you don’t believe judges should define marriage, state legislatures should. Â Even I agree with you there. Â As do most voters.
(4) Finally, I agree with Dick Morris that you need to reply to Obama’s latest attempt to re-imagine himself in Â “his first national advertising buy of the season” (via Instapundit). Â But, this ad campaign is dishonest: Â “In his effort to move to the center, Obama has distorted his own record, meager though it may be, and is taking credit for a program he strongly opposed.” Â Morris suggests a rebuttal:Â Â “John McCain: when you have real experience, you don’t need to exaggerate.”
These are just some suggestions on things you need do to prepare for the fall campaign. Â I think they will help remind voters of who you are and what you stand for while contrasting your commitment to certain principles to your opponent’s lack of substance.