Call it a soft launch. Friday afternoons in the dead heart of summer are not exactly when you make a splash in the news cycle. But this is when the McCain campaign chose to pull the trigger on its latest television ad, the harshest of the general election so far. It represents the beginnings of an evolution from the old McCain attack theme–”typical politics” (read the memo here)–to something that frames the campaign around questions of Obama’s experience and judgement. More of this is coming down the pike. Here’s the spot.
Note the merging of multiple storylines. You have patriotism at play, with Obama getting slammed in front of his website’s blue background, while McCain appears before the red and white of the stars and stripes. McCain is said to support the troops while Obama votes against funding for them. (It’s a misleading claim: Obama voted against a supplemental spending bill for Iraq because he said he was protesting the war strategy, not because he did not want to fund the troops.) You have the question of Obama’s relatively brief experience, as told through his long time away from Iraq and his lack of hearings on Afghanistan. (Left out is the fact that Obama’s tenure on the subcommittee in question coincided with his time on the campaign trail, but that didn’t stop Hillary Clinton from attacking him on the same point.) You also have the change theme being turned against Obama. “Now Obama is changing,” says the narrator, returning to the typical politician message, which has drawn some blood from Obama in recent weeks, after his shifts on things like FISA and public financing.
This is the beginning of the Steve Schmidt master-narrative era. There is no central soundbite, like BC ’04′s “flip-flop” yet, but there is a an aggressive posture. The McCain campaign has internalized what Republicans and beltway pundits have been saying for months. In a year when Democrats have tremendous advantages, in money, public opinion, and enthusiasm, the path to victory for McCain is to disqualify Obama.