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Still More Gop Backbiting

Over at The Politico, David Paul Kuhn has the latest in the Republicans-grumbling-about-the-McCain-campaign genre. Some of it will be pretty familiar--four wasted months, pukey green backdrops, etc.--but Kuhn has some revealing complaints about the McCain organization, which is one of the campaign's bigger liabilities at this point. Kuhn reports: 

“Here is where the problem is: We had a nomination gap between when McCain was nominated and the Democratic race completed,” a swing state Republican Party chairman said. “I think [campaign manager] Rick Davis and his team did not have an understanding of how the grass-roots, organizational part of the party works. They did not use what the [Republican National Committee] had done, or how groups like the [National Rifle Association] could have helped the McCain campaign locally.

“They are just now opening up campaign operations in most states. The RNC was ready to go in most states in March,” the state chairman continued, listing off grievances ranging from the campaign's “dictating” the members of various RNC committees to the state party's having been “threatened” that, though McCain “couldn’t afford not to play in our state,” the campaign would not “recommend us for resources” if the state party did not abide by its requests. ...

“You are going to hear a lot of complaints from state party chairmen,” one chairman said of his colleagues. “They are used to the Rove-Mehlman model. They were very good at finding the place they needed to win, down to the county they needed in Ohio.

“They are used to millions being raised for them, they’re used Karl Rove and Ken Mehlman providing a lot of infrastructure for state parties,” the chairman continued. “What people are being told is we are all on our own.” 

This would be a problem in any case, but it's especially problematic given that Team Obama is basically using the Rove-Mehlman model--building elaborate volunteer networks, scrupulously collecting data, precisely targeting voters, etc.

The McCain campaign's lengendary factionalism and muddled hierarchy is obviously one reason for these stumbles. Equally important, I think, is that the McCaniacs appear to have learned the wrong lesson from their improbable primary victory, as Mike Gerson explained in this sharp column.

The only thing I slightly disagree with Kuhn (and his sources) about is McCain's message. He writes:

“It’s hard to see a thematic message,” said another GOP strategist who has worked on past presidential races. Several Republicans said it remains unclear whether McCain will run on experience or attempt to redefine Obama’s message of change.

I think the incoherence charge was apt up until about a week ago. Lately, though, the campaign seems to have settled on the contrast between McCain's "country-first" honor and Obama's unprincipled opportunism, as laid out in this Steve Schmidt memo.

So they now have a message, I just don't think it's one that'll work, for reasons I explain my piece today. (Of course, given the campaign's apparent leadership vaccuum, there's no guarantee the message won't change in a week or two. So Kuhn's sources could turn out to be right here, too.)

Update: I guess the big news of the day is that the leadership vaccuum is being filled. That's the good news for McCain. The bad news: As Schmidt's now the one in charge, I don't think that message strategy is going anywhere for a while.

--Noam Scheiber