The Kristol Column

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The Republican world today is buzzing over the McCain campaign Kremlinology attempted by de facto McCain insider Bill Kristol, who, while not being part of McCain's inner circle, is close to many who are.


So McCain decided it was time for a campaign shake-up. Last week he moved lobbyist Rick Davis aside. He seemed to put Bush-Rove alum Steve Schmidt more or less in charge. But the full plan, as I understand it, was — and is — to have Schmidt, a good operative and tactician, take over day-to-day operations at headquarters, while bringing Murphy on both to travel with McCain and as chief strategist.

But McCain hesitated to carry out both steps of the plan at once, worried about an overload of turmoil. And Murphy’s arrival would mean a fair amount of turmoil. The current McCain campaign is chock full of G.O.P. establishment types, many of whom aren’t great fans of the irreverent Murphy. Murphy’s also made no secret of his low opinion of the Bush-Rove political machine that has produced many of these operatives. And Murphy hasn’t made his possible entry into the campaign smoother by telling a New York Times reporter the other day that “the depressingly self-absorbed McCain campaign machine needs to get out of the way” of its candidate.

A few points: many Republican insiders distrust Murphy because they believe he is less conservative than they are. That's true, although Murphy's clients -- Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney -- found his personal political philosophy to be quite accommodating. His client list is thoroughly center-right: Dirk Kempthorne. Gov. Terry Branstad of Iowa. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Jeff Sessions. Oliver North. (!). Paul Coverdale Although Christie Whitman was a liberal Republican, Murphy ran her as a conservative tax cutter.

Murphy has argued that what McCain needs is a fundamental change of message and style that would bring back the halcyon days of the 2000 campaign. He's virtually trademarked the phrase "let McCain be McCain." With Murphy in charge, McCain wouldn't run like an orthodox Republican. Though Steve Schmidt has focused on the mechanics of the campaign, associates say that he, too, wants McCain to project a message of fundamental government reform. The difference is that Murphy seems not to think that McCain's political style is a good fit with Schmidt's partisan pugilism, and Kristol, being a partisan Republican, seems to underestimate the potential for conflict.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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