Sgt. Schmidt

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Observers (depending on their politics) have noted with either satisfaction or fear that the McCain campaign is running “a typical Republican campaign.” Now the campaign has shifted adviser Steve Schmidt from bus duty to “day-to-day campaign management,” so we should expect some changes. Schmidt’s been involved in Republican politics basically since he was old enough to vote, but he’s not a typical Republican. Sure, ran the 2004 Bush-Cheney war room, but he also got Arnold re-elected. He and Mark McKinnon were the only two “outsiders” who became part of the tight-knit group that counseled McCain after his near-death experience last summer; at 36, he’s one of the youngest of all the top staffers and formed an unlikely but close relationship with the candidate almost out of the gate. Despite his youth, he’s also left a big imprint on the party — his proteges include former Mitt Romney spokesdude Kevin Madden and current RNC flack Danny Diaz.

Strategy-wise, Schmidt’s been an advocate for some of the boldest moves made by the McCain campaign, including the coyly misrepresentative accusation that Romney was “for surrender” — McCain’s term — based on wanting a “timetable” in Iraq. The charge twisted Romney’s words, but many feel that it helped seal Florida — and thus the nomination — for McCain. He also hates the press, at least as an organism if not individually; McCain sitting around for hours in bad lighting, with everyone recording everything — almost alone among the central advisers, Schmidt thinks the benefit is not worth the cost. If you’re looking for someone to break up the party between the media and McCain, he’s your guy.

And he looks like Lobot.

After the jump is a quick sketch I wrote of him for a magazine to be named later.

Schmidt lords over the conversation like a mafia don. He has a shaved head, a fireplug-shaped body and a wry demeanor that transforms into silent, burning intensity when provoked. After hours, his talent for mimicry and years of working for GOP heavyweights make him a voluble, hysterically funny storyteller. (The architect of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s re-election campaign, he responds with shyly feigned reluctance to requests for repeats of favorite anecdotes: “the one about the stogies!” or “the one about the custom jackets!”) On the job, he is the most disciplined of all of McCain’s aides, the least likely to go off message or to admit that the campaign has made a mistake. And when a story or a reporter strikes him as unfair or unjust, his lids lower, reptile-like, his lips purse, and his gaze hardens. He starts to look a little – just a little – like his old boss, Cheney.