The Rove Effect

In recent days, we have observed a more aggressive tone and manner from the McCain campaign. Despite the closeness of the race, the McCain campaign has appeared listless and unfocused in the last month. The senator himself has seemed snarky and has now endorsed the kind of negative ads that he normally would have criticized in the past. To some, it is a sign of desperation. To me, it is the Rove effect.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Steve Schmidt, a Rove protegé, became the senior strategist of the campaign. The recent attack mode and the continued blogging campaign about Obama ‘s name, patriotism, and religion are not accidental—and they are effective.

In national polls, fully 10 per cent still believe Obama is Muslim. Battleground states are seeing a narrowing of polling numbers between the two candidates The attacks on his patriotism continue and the statement by McCain alleging that Obama would prefer to lose a war in order to win a campaign is repeated. It does not matter that some statements or ads are over the top. If it serves the purpose, then all is fair in politics.

A change election, especially one that deals with a potential generational change, is bound to face resistance. And when a power structure is at stake, you can be sure the tactics will be aggressive and at times unethical. Obama’s campaign can claim that it will not be “swift boated.” They better be ready, though, because it will come and it will be vicious.

Karl Rove is clearly out there, advising and giving suggestions straight out of his ‘anything goes as long as long as you win’ playbook. In 2004, President Bush called him the architect of his victory. Rove may not like McCain, but he will help if only to protect the Bush legacy. And McCain, a victim of the Rove methods in 2000, seems content to use the playbook. It may actually succeed and McCain could be in White House come January.

The reasoning behind Obama’s decision not to limit himself to public financing is now becoming clearer. They got the ‘kitchen sink’ from the Clinton campaign in the spring, but they will be brought into the gutter once the Rupublican attack machine gets in gear.

The Obama campaign knows this and we may be seeing the beginning of what may end up being the nastiest campaign on record. But Rove is not invincible, as we saw in 2006. Obama, however, will not be given the easy road to the White House. Should he win, it will have to be more than a change of direction. His campaign will have to defeat the attack politics which have characterized American political life for the last quarter century and have discredited the political class, not to mention how they’ve alienated voters in the process.

This is one more test for Obama and the ultimate one. In my last blog post, I claimed that the doubt factor was applicable to both candidates, but it is clear that Rove has determined Obama is more vulnerable—and he is right. This is why the Obama campaign must continue to aggressively set the agenda and concentrate on the economic issue. This is where McCain is most vulnerable.

I believed that this campaign between Obama and McCain could be the most inspirational, character driven, and issue-based campaign ever. I now see that this was wishful thinking. Perhaps McCain’s suggestion to conduct a series of town halls with the two candidates side by side may end up as the best antidote to the Rove effect. After all, it is difficult to pretend to be conducting a noble campaign if you are not while your opponent is standing right next to you, on stage with the cameras rolling. Food for thought with less than 100 days to go.