Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Familiar Strategy

There is an interesting article in the San Francisco Chronicle that points out the uncanny similarities in the way Republican operatives ran Arnold Schwarzenegger's 2003 run for the governorship during the recall and also his first full-term race and the way they are handling Sarah Palin's rise as VP running mate for McCain. And --surprise, surprise! -- the same take-no-prisoners strategist, Steve Schmidt, who I talked about on the show yesterday and who basically took over the McCain campaign recently, had a big hand in Schwarzenegger's success as well:

Political observers in the Golden State now watching the political rocket ship of the Alaska governor say there's a sense of deja vu in what some are calling Palin's "Mrs. Smith goes to Washington" scenario.

"The biggest parallels I see is that they both come out of the blue. And the voters are desperate for a hero ... they're desperate to have hope in someone who can actually fix things," said GOP strategist Rob Stutzman, who was communication director for Schwarzenegger during the historic recall. "There's a lot of similarities ... people fall in love with the idea of a hero that can actually provide a refreshing change."

Barbara O'Connor, professor of political communication at Cal State Sacramento - who had a bird's-eye view of the recall - said the demographic appeal of Schwarzenegger and Palin is uncanny.

"There is a theme emerging - and Steve Schmidt is not an idiot," she said. "When they picked the vice presidential nominee, (the question was) how do you appeal to ... new voters, younger voters, decline-to-state voters ... and if we can pick up some of the Hillary voters, too, even better."

To that same electorate, Schwarzenegger "was the nontraditional outsider candidate in spades, with a forceful personality, a charming figure," who assumed cult-hero status, O'Connor said.

Part of the strategy as well, the article notes, is keeping the candidate away from media, and attacking the media for bringing up truths. Basically, you protect the narrative and guard it fiercely and build up a resentment among supporters against anyone who challenges it. In other words, making the candidate into celebrity with a cult following (or underscoring that already-established reality). So now the campaign that attacked Obama for being a celebrity has manufactured its own. In this strategy, the truth doesn't matter, and the media doesn't matter (except to bring sympathy for actually exposing truths). And it worked for Arnie.