IT’S THE CULTURAL INSECURITIES, STUPID…. It’s tempting to look for recent historical analogies for the presidential campaign. Is this year like 1980, with Obama playing Reagan’s role? Is it like 1996, with McCain playing Dole’s role? Is it like 1992, with Obama playing Clinton’s role?

Stepping back, the 2008 race is actually like all of the recent presidential elections, to the extent that Republicans hope cultural insecurities overwhelm policy differences in the minds of voters.

Speaker after speaker at this week’s Republican National Convention defended small towns from the perceived slights of urban elites. They talked of working people, and ridiculed those with the time to become “community organizers.” They railed against the media, Hollywood and the Washington cocktail circuit.

Cultural affinities, which President Bush played on heavily to paint 2004 Democratic nominee John F. Kerry as elite and out of touch, are now central to the campaign strategy of GOP presidential nominee John McCain. […]

[T]his week’s events demonstrated that McCain’s campaign has settled on its final-stretch strategy to defeat Barack Obama: portraying Republicans as in sync with mainstream America and Democrats as the cultural fringe.

We didn’t hear too much of this from McCain last night in his acceptance speech, which at least tried to strike an above-the-fray tone, but his convention and his campaign has been less than subtle. When talking about McCain, Americans hear amorphous soundbites about patriotism and service. When attacking Obama, we hear character attacks about celebrity, elitism, and presumptuousness.

Rick Davis, McCain’s campaign manager, summarized the Republicans’ perspective perfectly a couple of days ago: “This election is not about issues.” Indeed, it can’t be — McCain is on the wrong side of practically every policy dispute Americans care about.

There are two angles to keep in mind. First, if voters are genuinely desperate for change, playing on their cultural insecurities won’t be enough. These guys tried this approach in ’92, for example, and came up short. This year, with three-in-four Americans convinced the nation is badly off track, only so many people can be swayed by talk of Paris Hilton, arugula, and Obama being “uppity.”

And second, let’s also note how entirely unoriginal all of this is. Atwater did it, Rove did it, and now Schmidt is doing. Without these cultural insecurities, Republicans would lose every election.

The LA Times report added that GOP strategists are convinced, probably with good reason, that there are voters “who may be struggling economically, detest President Bush and oppose the Iraq war — but still may vote based on a visceral sense of which candidate respects their way of life.”

With that in mind, watch how both campaigns spend the next 60 days, not arguing over who’s right on the issues, but over whether issues matter at all.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.