John McCain': Whose Brand Is It Anyway?

I’m sure some will find the new web video produced by the John McCain campaign, “Obama Love,” amusing. The video strings together a bunch of snippets of TV commentators talking about Obama in positive, sometimes sweet and glowing terms. The video is set to Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.”

But, coming on the heels of one of the worst, ham-fisted, nonsense ads of the season in which a John McCain approved ad tries to lay blame for high gas prices on rival Barack Obama, I am thinking this is the week when historians will say that the McCain campaign jumped the shark.

Judging from this week’s management of McCain’s campaign communications, I’d say the biggest obstacle facing the Arizona Senator’s quest for the Oval Office is his own decision, helped by bad advice from his new chief campaign adviser Steve Schmidt, to walk away from the McCain brand.

Schmidt, brought on to “save” McCain’s campaign, advised McCain that its time for him to play the sappy, wounded victim, rather than the confident statesman. Oh Brother! Who think this is a good idea? This new strategy has also been garnished with a new piece of stage management Schmidt has given him: When you have the chance, they have clearly told him, snicker on camera at statements made by Obama. If Obama surrogates say that McCain and Bush statements about “time horizons” sound like Obama’s long-held positions on largely withdrawing from Iraq in 16+ months, or that their moves to prioritize the fighting in Afghanistan sound like positions Obama articulated months ago—-snicker. Laugh it off.

Up until this week, I’d have given McCain an even chance to defeat Obama in November. Obama is charismatic, but has a mighty thin resume. There are enough voters in the U.S. who aren’t sure about voting an African-American into the White House. Add to those people Republicans and people who like to see some gray hair on the President’s head when the *&^%$ hits the fan, and I’d have given McCain a better shot than some national polls.

But these are hardly times in which people want to see a 71-year old candidate laughing off his challenger who is ahead of him in most polls, and who seems more in touch with the electorate’s attitude toward prolonged wars in the Middle East. Add to McCain’s problem his team showing him on a golf cart in Maine with President George H.W. Bush, while Obama is touring Iraq in a helicopter with Generals…It doesn’t look very presidential.

This new “Obama Love” video from the McCain campaign may tickle the nutsy Sean Hannity crowd. But I’m thinking it spells “loser” to independents. C’mon, McCain is bitching because Obama is a better communicator? Because the media is paying extra attention to the first African-American candidate with a serious shot at The White House? One wonders what ads and videos McCain and Schmidt might have run in primary ads if he was up against McCain's hero Ronald Reagan.

Sure, MSNBC is in the tank for Obama. As much as Fox is for McCain. But for every lampoonable Chris Matthews moment of weepiness over an Obama speech, there are hours and hours of anti-Obama ranting and commentary on Sean Hannity’s nightly lie-fest and pretty good doses on Bill O’Reilly. Yes, all three network news anchors went to cover Obama’s MidEast and Europe tour. But here is another to memo to McCain staff: Obama is a historic candidate. It’s a legit news event within the context of a historic, wide-open Presidential race. The fact of Obama is historic and newsy; yes, newsier than John McCain’s candidacy.

McCain has gotten plenty of breaks from the media. His gaffes in the Middle East; his need to be fed lines on camera by Joe Lieberman the way Nancy Reagan used to do for Ronald Reagan because his hearing impairment made it tough for him to hear a question. His forgetting that Czechoslovakia is no longer a country. Most of the media, save MSNBC and Air America, has given him a pass.

I think a good poll question might be: Do you take this year’s presidential election seriously. On a scale of 1 to 10? I think most people would be in the 9-10 range. And McCain is trying to laugh off his historic opponent? Memo to McCain staff: Serious up a bit, or risk trivializing your candidacy.

McCain’s ads in which he states his experience, sacrifice and positions have played extremely well. But this week, he has gone after Obama twice with ads that are cheap, factually untrue and petty. They have been the work of Schmidt, who, very quickly, is making a fool of McCain. The non-partisan calls McCain’s ad blaming Obama for high gas prices “A Full Tank of Nonsense."

For the most part, the Arizona Senator has been running a pretty straight, honorable campaign. Yes, at times it has been lame, as well. His June speech, the night Obama clinched the Democratic nomination, was a study in lameness. His worst offenses have been echoing total misrepresentations of Obama’s positions on Iraq and the tax policy. But that’s par for the Presidential campaign silly season. But the two ads from the campaign this week are just downright childish, cheap and beneath the brand of McCain.

It’s time for the Arizona Senator to stop whining about the media that has, on the whole, been as kind to him as it has been to Obama, man up, and wage an honorable campaign of “straight talk” like the one he has been promising. McCain, if he lets Schmidt run wild, will quickly lose his best asset and most prized possession--his honor. If McCain can't run on his honor, then what is his brand anyway?

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