THESE GUYS LOOK FAMILIAR…. Early on in John McCain’s presidential campaign, the senator’s goal was to convince people that he and George W. Bush were on the same page. He’d boast about having voted with Bush 90% of the time, and insist, “[O]n the transcendent issues, the most important issues of our day, I’ve been totally in agreement and support of President Bush.” More recently, of course, McCain has had to argue the exact opposite.
It’s a tough sell. For one thing, McCain’s policy agenda mirrors Bush’s policy agenda. For another, McCain’s rhetoric is an echo of Bush’s rhetoric. And to help drive the point home, the Washington Post’s Anne Kornblut and Juliet Eilperin noted today that McCain’s team is made up of staffers from Bush’s team.
When Gov. Sarah Palin flew home to Alaska for the first time since being named the Republican vice presidential nominee, she brought along at least half a dozen new advisers to conduct briefings, stage-manage her first television interview and help her prepare for a critical debate next month.
And virtually every member of the team shared a common credential: years of service to President Bush.
From Mark Wallace, a Bush appointee to the United Nations, to Tucker Eskew, who ran strategic communications for the Bush White House, to Greg Jenkins, who served as the deputy assistant to Bush in his first term and was executive director of the 2004 inauguration, Palin was surrounded on the trip home by operatives deeply rooted in the Bush administration.
The clutch of Bush veterans helping to coach Palin reflects a larger reality about Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign: Far from being a group of outsiders to the Republican Party power structure, it is now run largely by skilled operatives who learned their crafts in successive Bush campaigns and various jobs across the Bush government over the past eight years.
McCain’s communications team is led by the same people who led Bush’s communications team. McCain’s and Palin’s speeches have been written by Bush’s speechwriters. McCain’s top domestic policy advisor was Bush’s top economic advisor. Palin’s advance-man was Bush’s advance-man.
Most of the team has been assembled by Steve Schmidt, best known for his work in Karl Rove’s White House shop.
It’s not exactly the kind of team that screams “agents of change.” Indeed, it’s the kind of team a candidate assembles when he wants to let folks know that he plans to keep doing exactly what Bush has been doing.
One could argue, as some McCain backers have, that Bush has been the dominant figure in Republican politics for the past decade, and most staffers who’d join a presidential campaign would have spent some time in the Bush White House in one capacity or another. There’s probably some truth to this.
But that doesn’t change the problematic dynamic for McCain — a maverick comes up with an independent team that wants to shake up the status quo; a sidekick relies on the team the other guy already left in place.