Thursday :: Nov 11, 2004
What Went Wrong, Part 386
And speaking of not having a message, take a look at Ryan Lizza's post-mortem in the New Republic. If you don't have a subscription, here's some interesting tidbits:
"I don't know that we ever knew what it was we were saying about George W. Bush," says one senior member of the team, whose job it was to come up with a message about Bush. It was a problem that plagued the campaign as soon as they stumbled, penniless, from the primaries into the general election. "When we got into the general, nobody knew how to go against Bush," says a senior campaign official. "[Senior adviser Bob] Shrum and [pollster Mark] Mellman built this strategy against Bush, 'Stronger at home, respected in the world.' What does that mean? We never even had strategy memos." By the fall, things were no better. "If there was a clear message in September about why you elect Kerry and defeat Bush, most of the people in the campaign were unaware of it," says one senior strategist hired late in the campaign.
Aides complain that the litany of issues filled the message vacuum. Inside the campaign, the message was known as jhos (pronounced "jay-hose"), which stood for jobs, health care, oil, and security. "jhos," says a senior policy adviser, despondently. "That was our message. It was jhos. That was literally our message. And, by the way, someone made millions of dollars to come up with that." That someone would be the political consulting firm Shrum, Devine, and Donilon, which is now receiving the brunt of criticism from demoralized staffers.The problem, aides say, is the lack of imagination Shrum and his colleagues exhibited. One common complaint is that they were slaves to polling data and used the research in a ridiculously literal way. Says a senior aide, "When you ask people, 'What is the most important issue?' and they say prescription drugs, [the consultants] say, 'Well, if we run on prescription drugs, we'll win.'" One aide repeatedly pressed Kerry to give a speech about welfare reform, since he had voted for Bill Clinton's bill in 1996. The idea was rebuffed because welfare didn't show up in polling as a key issue for voters. "
The swing voters in the focus groups said they didn't want to see attack ads, so the campaign dutifully obeyed. "There was a belief within the campaign that you did not need, fundamentally, to raise these questions about Bush," says one of the architects of the campaign's strategy. "It was much more about John Kerry and filling in the picture on John Kerry and making him an acceptable alternative." One of Kerry's closest aides says, "I absolutely think the lack of negative campaigning killed us." Aides argue that the absence of a negative case against Bush led directly to the absence of a coherent message overall. "The whole strategy was based on polling," says one of Kerry's senior advisers. "Mark Mellman always focused on swing voters. You've got to start making the case for change, but we were never allowed to do that because it scared the swing voters."
As the saying goes, read it and weep.
UPDATE: This is just too good to pass up. From Lizza's blog, here's his description of a quote that didn't make the final cut:
Somehow my favorite quote never made it into the final draft. It's from a senior Kerry adviser who was discussing Kerry's inability to connect with the values of everyday Americans. Here it is for posterity: "Clinton went back and executed that retarded guy. That said, 'I share your values.'" Let's hope that between now and 2008 Democrats will come up with some other ways to bridge the values gap.
Let me repeat the Kerry adviser's quote one more time: "Clinton went back and executed that retarded guy. That said, 'I share your values.'"
No further comment needed.