This weekend, The New York Times Magazine will publish an in-depth look at how the McCain campaign came up with the different narratives they pitched in their efforts to sell their candidate. Writer Robert Draper outlines everything from the “Heroic Fighter” story line (McCain was originally reluctant to harp on his POW experiences, but was talked into it by advisers like Steve Schmidt) to the “Obama As Celebrity” meme (which came from a frustrated outburst from Schmidt in a meeting) to the “Team of Mavericks” plot. As the Huffington Post pointed out, for some readers it will seem like a postmortem. But the campaign isn’t dead yet, and as you’ll learn from the story, it’s moments of desperation when the McCain team is at its most creative and risk-taking.
Most fascinating are the portions of the story that talk about the choice of Sarah Palin as running mate in late August. Her name was first mentioned in a meeting by Steve Schmidt on Sunday, August 24, less than a week before her pick was announced, and she only first met McCain himself on Thursday, August 28, just one day before the announcement. It was, Draper reports, a quiet inside choice by Fred Davis and Schmidt that was carefully spread around the campaign. They based the choice on her narrative, confidence, and, in particular, one Charlie Rose appearance during which she supplied few answers but still managed to dominate the interview. Oh, and her looks. Apparently, a pal told Davis: “The way you pick a vice president is, you get a frame of Time magazine, and you put the pictures of the people in that frame. You look at who fits that frame best — that’s your V.P.” (No wonder the RNC has spent $150,000 on clothes for her.) McCain apparently first met Palin during an hour-long conversation in his favorite wooded nook on his Arizona ranch, “beside a creek and a sycamore tree, where a rare breed of hawk seasonally nested.” That alone time was enough to seal the deal.
Draper concludes that as effective as all of the campaign narratives have been individually, they may not work together. “The trick is that all of these are McCain,” senior adviser Matt McDonald told him. “But in constantly alternating among story lines in order to respond to changing events and to gain traction with voters,” concludes Draper, “[t]he ‘true character’ of a once-crisply-defined political figure has become increasingly murky.”