Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Red Phone Problem

A lot of people are mad about the red phone ad (and associated comments by Clinton) because they think it damages Obama in the general. That's not my problem with it. Well, it's one problem I have with it, but it's not the crowning stupidity of the thing.

The crowning stupidity is that in taking this line of attack, Clinton cuts herself off at the knees (should she wind up as the nominee).

Don't believe me? Look at this:

At a Council on Foreign Relations event in D.C. today, as a Hillary adviser touted Clinton's foreign policy experience, McCain adviser Randy Scheunemann reportedly chimed in with: "Please keep running those 3:00 a.m. ads about who you want to answer the phone, because we like those."
And this:
The [red phone] commercial was credited as one factor enabling Clinton to turn her campaign around in Texas last week. But, 42% of all voters said the person they’d most want to answer the phone was John McCain. Among all voters, 25% picked Clinton and another 25% named Obama as the person they’d want in the White House when a foreign policy crisis call arrived....

Among unaffiliated voters, 39% said McCain would be their top choice to handle such a crisis. Twenty-seven percent (27%) of unaffiliateds said they thought Obama was the best to handle the call while 18% named Clinton.
The very thing that is a perceived advantage for Clinton in the primary is a tremendous disadvantage against McCain. If the general election is fought on this ground--"experience", "national security credibility", the "commander-in-chief threshhold"--McCain wins. McCain wins big. McCain annihilates Clinton on that standard.

Beating McCain requires (at least) one of two things: defining the race in a way more advantageous to the Democrats--fighting it on our own turf, instead of McCain's--or defining McCain as unsuited to command (intemperate, impulsive, batshit crazy). Clinton has conceded the latter point altogether (undercutting Obama's attempts to make it), and made it much harder for any Democrat to do the former.