GIVING UP ON ISSUES ALTOGETHER…. Just five months ago, after John McCain had already secured the Republican nomination, his campaign manager, Rick Davis, issued a memo to supporters encouraging them to stick to the issues, and avoid getting into fights over Barack Obama’s middle name. Davis said McCain is committed to running a “campaign based on the issues.” He added that all Republicans should run “a respectful campaign focused on the issues.”
That was March. In September, Davis thinks “the issues” are overrated.
Rick Davis, campaign manager for John McCain’s presidential bid, insisted that the presidential race will be decided more over personalities than issues during an interview with Post editors this morning.
“This election is not about issues,” said Davis. “This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates.”
I’m not convinced that Davis is wrong on a practical level — most voters probably don’t follow politics well enough to know the candidates’ stands on key issues — but it is striking to see Davis make this argument out loud and on the record. Political professionals usually like to maintain the fiction that policies count more than personalities. Davis isn’t just arguing to the contrary, he’s insisting that personalities should count more than policies. Is it me, or is this a strikingly cynical message for a campaign manager to offer?
Obama campaign manager David Plouffe, not surprisingly, pounced. “We appreciate Senator McCain’s campaign manager finally admitting that his campaign is not in fact about the issues the American people care about, which is exactly the kind of cynical old politics people are ready to change,” Plouffe said.
Nevertheless, if last night was any indication, it’s clear that “the issues” are the very last thing Republicans want to talk about. As Dana Goldstein noted, “[The central message of this Republican National Convention is not] about national security, or tax cuts, or social conservatism. And it’s certainly not the message of solidarity with working Americans that the Democrats advanced last week in Denver. Rather, the theme is patriotism, honor, and personal sacrifice. It is amorphous, without many policy specifics.”
It seems Republicans don’t have much of a choice. They’re on the wrong side of “the issues,” and if they started to talk about policy specifics, Americans would run in the other direction.
So, we’re left with personalities and cultural insecurities. As a consequence, Republicans shouldn’t expect much of a mandate if McCain wins — he’s not running on a platform beyond his biography.