Sunday, June 15, 2008

What Senator McCain Must Do To Remain Competitive

Ned Barnett © 2008

Note - this article is based on my interview with my most recent interview with Neil Cavuto on Fox Business. An edited version of this article appeared June 15th published in American Thinker.

It’s often been said that, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics” – and if that is true (and it is), Senator John McCain seems intent on going on a hunger strike.

Senator Obama has proved to be the most effective fund-raiser in the history of American politics, at a time when Republican candidate-presumptive Senator John McCain seems to be doing all he can to make sure that he cannot raise enough in campaign contributions to stay competitive.

If Senator McCain fails in his bid for the presidency, more than any other candidate in recent memory, he will well and truly have been “hoist on his own petard.” His McCain-Feingold law deprives him of the resources he might raise from well-heeled individual donors – including his remarkably wealthy wife, Cindy, who is as incapable today as Theresa Heinz Kerry had been four years ago of financially supporting her candidate husband. However, it’s not too late for Senator McCain to recognize what he’s done to himself, as well as how he can turn this around.

Because of restrictions placed on fundraising by the McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform bill became law, big donors are dramatically limited. This, in turn, puts a premium on the quantity of donors, rather than the quantity of donations, and elevates the importance – for each candidate – of continuing to court their party’s “core” who are the most likely donors. Senator Obama has done an exceptional job of capturing the zeitgeist of the Democratic Party’s core, and millions of core Democrats have opened their wallets.

These core party loyalists’ per-donor contributions average under $100 – and, according to an article in the June 9th issue of Crain’s Chicago Business, “45% of the $265 million Mr. Obama has raised came from donations of $200 or less,” and The Hill reports that Senator Obama may raise as much as $100 million in June alone – the sheer volume of those donations has created a tidal-wave of political “mother’s milk” for himself and other Democratic Party candidates.

On the other hand, with the sole exception of his stirring and persuasive CPAC speech in early February, Senator McCain has adopted a strategy of running away from his conservative base in an effort to attract moderate and independent voters. While that strategy may work in attracting voters, it has proved – so far – to be a dismal failure as a foundation for successful fund-raising.

Since his speech at CPAC in early February, where McCain made a seemingly effective effort to paint himself as a conservative, he has done nothing to reach out to his Conservative base, and many things to alienate that Conservative base. While McCain may be right that it will be Independent voters who will put him over the top in November, it is wrong to think that Independents will donate to his campaign. Donations are the realm of the motivated true-believers, and McCain has intentionally alienated them (figuring that, in November, they’ll have nowhere else to go). That could be his fatal mistake. That may explain why, a non-profit campaign financing watchdog group, reports that while Senator Obama has raised more than $272 million as of June 9, 2008, Senator McCain has raised just $106 million dollars – barely 39% of the amount raised by his opponent.

Traditionally (i.e., in the campaigns since Reagan defeated Carter in 1980) Republicans have always out-fund-raised the Democrats – and they did this primarily because they were able to motivate their passionate Conservative base – men and women ready to put their money where their mouth is. However, this year, Democrat Obama easily out-raised McCain at every turn. Core Democrats are highly motivated by a positive call to change America and the world.

Core Republicans, on the other hand, have been largely turned off by maverick Republican McCain’s consistent Bush-bashing, along with his “crossing the aisle” support of issues dear to the hearts of Liberals … but not Conservatives. At a time when he desperately needs the passionate support of the Conservative base, Senator McCain has been so busy proving that he’s not running for “Bush’s Third Term” that he’s starving his campaign of donations – the money he needs to stay competitive.

What can Senator McCain do to turn this situation around – to remain competitive for moderate and independent voters while appealing directly to his Conservative base?

He needs to run against the Bush’s Third Term charge, but he needs to do so in positive terms, not negative terms, and he needs to give Conservatives solid and affirmative reasons to not only vote for Senator McCain, but to contribute to his campaign.

For instance, he could propose several major Conservative initiatives, such as these three representative samples:

1. Appoint Supreme Court and Appellate justices who will interpret the constitution, rather than rewriting it – then publicly provide Conservatives a short-list of the kinds of people he’d appoint. This would be a list of about a dozen rock-solid judges who are not partisan and not prone to legislating from the bench – men and women of sterling character and exemplary judicial experience – men and women who will ease the concerns of Conservatives without alienating moderates and independents.

2. Expand and energize the development of the missile defense shield. With Korea a nuclear country with operational medium-range missiles, and with Iran threatening to become yet another rogue nuclear country, also with medium-range missiles, Senator McCain could commit to implementing a missile defense shield that will protect the US, our European allies and Israel from premeditated covert nuclear attack. Again, this will reassure Conservatives without driving away thoughtful moderates and independents.

3. Implement trade regulations that exactly mirror those of countries who are our trading partners – so those countries who want free trade with us will have to return the favor, while those who won’t extend free trade rights to US countries (i.e., China, Japan) will face restrictions identical to those they impose on US companies. This would delight even the most ardent free-trade Conservatives, while resonating among moderates and independents as being eminently fair.

An approach similar to this would serve to differentiate McCain from Bush – while at the same time gaining accolades from the Conservative Base. Instead, to differentiate himself, the Senator has joined the legion of Bush bashers – he may hope to win over liberals, but in doing so, he is alienating his Conservative base – the most likely potential source of campaign financing.