Earlier this year, after Republicans lost Louisiana's Sixth District, Newt Gingrich warned his fellow conservatives:
The Republican brand has been so badly damaged that if Republicans try to run an anti-Obama, anti- Reverend Wright, or (if Senator Clinton wins), anti-Clinton campaign, they are simply going to fail.
This model has already been tested with disastrous results.
I thought about that quote as I read this report that Johnny Mac is at odds with his people, because they want to bring up Rev. Wright. It's apparent that no one listens to Newt:
The aides argue that the 20 years that Obama spent in the fiery Wright's pastoral care -- and his later assertion that he knew nothing of his former minister's more extreme statements -- provide an opening to challenge Obama's judgment and honesty in a relevant and politically resonant way.
"He was a central figure in Obama's life, shaping Obama's thinking, and he made the extreme radical comments that are borderline anti-American," the campaign official said.
McCain is right--but not for the reasons, he thinks. It's honorable that he doesn't want to be known as a racist candidate, but there is something else--the tactic will fail. Here's the thing. I was on a panel with Peggy Noonan a couple weeks back, who I generally disagree with. But she made a great point about Sarah Palin and populism. Noonan argued that populism as a tactic, when connected to some larger thing, can work. But populism as an entire strategy--i.e. vote for me because I'm like you, and nothing else--is much much harder to execute.
There's a reason why some demagoguery works and other demagoguery doesn't. Obama's attack on McCain's house allowed him to circle back and score points on the economy--it was connected to an actual issue that was on the minds of voters. Ditto for the Keating Five. The Swift Boat attack allowed Republicans to come back to terrorism, at time when folks were living in the shadow of 9/11. Bill Clinton's Sista Souljah thing allowed him to tap into all sorts of shit--from welfare to Affirmative Action to crime. These were actual voting issues at the time. Willie Horton connects to crime policy--a big deal in the late 80s. And so on.
What does Wright represent? What policy does he circle back to? The big voting issue this year is the economy. All this does is say to people--who are steady losing money--that McCain doesn't want to talk to them about the great issue of this election. If this were 1988, and the issues were crime, welfare, Affirmative Action, maybe this would work. But this is just a character attack. It doesn't lead anywhere.
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