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Distract And Detract: McCain Counter-Programs The DNC, And Himself

Free from the no doubt horrifying responsibility to run positive TV ads during the Olympics, the campaign is back to its all-attack ways.
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John McCain's press release TV ad playing up Joe Biden's criticism of Barack Obama and praise of McCain.

While the Democrats continue rolling out their convention and the Obama-Biden ticket, Team McCain is playing it tough, trying to disrupt Barack Obama's storyline at most turns of the media cycle. Free from the no doubt horrifying responsibility to run positive TV ads during the Olympics after it was brought to their attention that John McCain is the only one ever to have run negative ads, the campaign is back to its all-attack ways.

McCain's fast and tough new campaign, under new campaign director Steve Schmidt -- who I know very well from his direction of Arnold Schwarzenegger's landslide re-election and profiled here -- is making a real race of this, when it shouldn't be. Schmidt believes in winning or at least muddying the waters at every phase of the news cycle. Incidentally, there is no reason why Schmidt's tactics can't be used against McCain. The media, mind you, is not going to change.

Six negative TV ads released in the past three days. Four from the McCain campaign itself. Two from closely aligned entities. One, funded solely by a Texas billionaire who's a big McCain fundraiser, with a former McCain aide on board, attacking on Obama's connection with former Weather Undergrounder-turned-professor Bill Ayers. The other, Vets for Freedom attacking Obama on the surge.

The goals throughout? Distract and detract.

And now the counter-programming applies to McCain himself. Or more accurately, his recent gaffes of not knowing how many homes he and wife Cindy own, and of imagining that it takes $5 million a year to be rich.

As always with a Schmidt-run campaign, TV advertising is used as event marketing. It doesn't matter if the ads actually air in any concerted way on commercial TV. They are used to disrupt what would otherwise be the news flow.

The ads are a shiny lure.

It used to be that when you hit an opponent, in the mail or in the electronic media, you didn't send out a press release about it. You just did it. And waited for the opposition to learn about it and try to respond, while the dark work took its effect on the electorate.

Now the hits are intended to alter the media narrative. You put the ads out to get the media to talk and write about them. And to force the opposition to respond and, hopefully, stop doing what they were doing because now they are responding to you.


Obama names Joe Biden as his running mate. Team McCain puts out an ad quoting Biden criticizing Obama and praising McCain. Seen above.

McCain's "3 AM" ad plays off Hillary's "3 AM" ad.

Obama works out the speaking roles for Hillary and Bill Clinton at the convention. Team McCain puts out an ad showing an ad -- the famous Hillary "3 AM" spot -- saying she was right. That Obama's not ready.

McCain's ad featuring this former Hillary Clinton delegate, a virtual unknown, plays up a Democratic discord narrative.

Conventioneers start arriving in Denver amidst signs that many Clinton voters say they will vote for McCain. Which is not actually a good sign for McCain, since his closeness in the polls is due to their lingering bad feelings and ignorance of his views. So Team McCain puts out an ad with the only Hillary delegate (make that former delegate) who has actually endorsed McCain.

McCain's ad claiming she was passed over for vice president because she criticized Obama.

The early consensus on Joe Biden as prospective vice president turns out to be generally very good. Team McCain puts out an ad saying that Obama "passed over" the best choice, Hillary, because she "spoke the truth" about him and he couldn't take it.

Meanwhile, of course, the Republicans have a ton of opposition research on the Clintons. Which they now can't use. Needless to say, they'd be using it now if Obama had picked Hillary.

But this relentless strategy of distract and detract by the McCain campaign itself works to a certain extent in altering the news flow. And the Bill Ayers hit actually got Obama to release a counter-ad.

Which prompted a McCain spokesman to say: "The fact that Barack Obama chose to launch his political career at the home of an unrepentant terrorist raises more questions about Senator Obama's judgment than any TV ad ever could."

Obama didn't actually launch his career at Ayers' home, but you get the gist.

Of course, there is no reason why Steve Schmidt's techniques can't be used against his own campaign. The Democrats could use media jamming tactics to jam the jamming tactics. Which might create a sort of white noise. Or move the story to substance.

It's true that McCain's campaign is all based on attack right now.

But McCain is doing other things, too. There's plenty of policy out there, that is plenty controversial.

And, for example, there's something like this.

Last night, John McCain appeared on The Tonight Show for the 13th time. Where he answered Jay Leno's question about how many homes he owns by citing his status as a POW.

The appearance seems to have been lost in the media shuffle.

Who else has been on The Tonight Show 13 times?

Pamela Anderson. Jennifer Love Hewitt. Dr. Phil. Simon Cowell from American Idol.


The ad practically writes itself.

Distract and detract.