I just listened to John McCain’s interview with Chris Wallace that took place yesterday on Fox News Sunday. It brings me to something I admire about the senator, and that is his skill at manipulating perceptions. For others of you who want to campaign right, govern left, you can take some lessons here.
Senator McCain knows when to be conservative and when to be liberal. I made a post a couple of months ago where I asked that if McCain survives this primary challenge from Hayworth if he would go back to being a liberal for the November campaign or would he wait. I said he would wait, because he has to be more subtle about the switch. You have to give people time to forget, and you need plausible deniability. Keep this in mind as I analyze his interview with Chris Wallace.
I remember back in 2001 when Bush 43 was pushing his tax cuts, McCain opposed them, calling them tax cuts for the rich. Chris asked him about the Democrats’ proposal to let these same “tax cuts for the rich” expire and McCain called that “class warfare.” We’re in a recession (or is it a depression?), McCain is running for reelection (which means that people are really paying close attention), so he has to be conservative. Note the skill, here, people. He comes out in full fighting mode as if he is leading a charge for a cause he fought against nine years ago. But that was nine years ago. You can get away with this, if enough time has elapsed. But don’t try this at home, folks. This takes a lot of skill and a lot of experience to maintain your credibility and your “character matters” image and do this kind of political two-step.
Then he was asked to comment on whether the Tea Parties are good for the Republican party. His comment was that he welcomed them and that it meant the Republican party would be stronger and more interesting as a result. Note the high level of skill here. He doesn’t want to endorse their message, because he wants to give himself some wiggle room later. But he doesn’t want to oppose their message either. His comment gives Tea Party people some warm fuzzy feelings without him having to go too far.
Wallace asked him about Republican candidates who are calling for privatizing Social Security. Now this issue is a little too hot for a liberal to get very close to at all. The smart thing to do—no comment. Exactly what McCain did. He made some general comments about we have to do something about Social Security.
And then, in typical Chris Wallace style, he asked McCain if he had “sold his soul” to win re-election, and confronted him with his biggest flip-flops—cap and trade, immigration, the Bush tax cuts, and “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” McCain, with great chutzpah, denied that he had changed any positions and threaded the needle very carefully with some comments that I can’t even remember. It reminds me of the way Sarah Palin described being coached for the debates. They gave her scripted non-answers that sounded like answers. She rejected that approach, but for someone like McCain who is in the business of creating impressions, you have to learn that and learn it well.
This is the stuff that campaign strategy textbooks are made of. I listened and I must say that McCain truly felt like a conservative here. Great skill, John. Could put him in contention for an Oscar, don’t you think?