Q&A Friday #5: How Would You Save The Kerry Campaign?

Question: “Your job is to save the Kerry campaign from implosion and lead it to victory in November – what three actions would you take?

For fun – let’s suspend reality for a second and try and limit your activities to those strictly “above board”. — WriteWinger

Answer: You know what Kerry’s problem is at this point (aside from the fact that Kerry is a terrible candidate who has run an incoherent campaign based around the fact that he’s “not George Bush” and that he served in Vietnam)? His campaign keeps getting caught in monkey traps

“The “South Indian Monkey Trap” was developed by villagers to catch the ever-present and numerous small monkeys in that part of the world. It involves a hollowed-out coconut chained to a stake. The coconut has some rice inside which can be seen through a small hole. The hole is just big enough so that the monkey can put his hand in, but too small for his fist to come out after he has grabbed the rice.

Tempted by the rice, the monkey reaches in and is suddenly trapped. He is not able to see that it is his own fist that traps him, his own desire for the rice. He rigidly holds on to the rice, because he values it. He cannot let go and by doing so retain his freedom. So the trap works and the villagers capture him.”

Kerry has talked about Vietnam so much that even his own supporters have started to cringe when he does it and the Swift Boat Vets have battered him on the issue, but he refuses to stop talking about it because he thinks his service looks good in comparison to Bush’s time in the National Guard.

Kerry’s supporters keep demanding that he “fight back” despite the fact that the left has already gone so far over the top, for so long, that nothing they’re going to say at this point is going to hurt Bush. I mean once you’ve accused Bush of being AWOL from the National Guard, using cocaine during his father’s administration, invading Afghanistan and Iraq for oil, and being a Nazi, you’ve done about all you can in the negatives department.

Then there’s the war on terrorism. This is the issue that motivates a large part of Kerry’s base and they’re practically demanding that Kerry bash Bush on the issue. However, it’s a losing issue for Kerry because the majority of American people support the war on terror, Kerry doesn’t have any sort of coherent policy, and people overwhelmingly trust Bush, not Kerry to handle the war. It’s an issue Kerry can’t win, but he just can’t stop himself from talking about it.

Given what I’ve just said, if I set aside my partisan feelings and advised Kerry, what would I tell him to do? Three things…

1) Have a press conference and announce that he’s not talking about Vietnam anymore because, “This campaign has focused too much on things that happened 30 years ago and the American people want to talk about issues that are relevant to them today”, send the “Band of Brothers” home, and just move on. I say that because…

A) Just about everyone knows Kerry was in Vietnam
B) Just about everyone knows Bush was in the National Guard and has formed an opinion on whether he was “AWOL” or not…and incidentally, I’ve seen no evidence that the “AWOL” issue has ever hurt him at the polls.
C) People are just plain bored with the topic of Vietnam and would rather talk about something else.
D) By refusing to talk about Vietnam, Kerry could do regular press conferences and interviews again without having to worry about coming up with excuses to dodge embarrassing questions about his war protestor days or allegations brought up by the Swift Boat Vets for Truth.

2) Then I’d tell Kerry to shut up about the war and stop going negative. The war is a losing issue and the more Kerry talks about it, the more he reinforces the idea that it’s the most important thing for people to consider on November 2nd.

Furthermore, going negative at this point isn’t hurting Bush and it may even be hurting Kerry. Here’s a guy who isn’t considered very likable in the first place and he’s rambling on about Haliburton, Dick Cheney’s deferments, and Saudi Arabian influence on the Bush administration. Kerry is coming across a lot like “Michael Moore lite” these days which may make the more rabid members of the base happy, but it’s not going to appeal to most people.

So instead of going negative or talking about the war, my advice would be to find three big domestic issues and beat them into the ground. Talk about them constantly, at every opportunity. Start out every conversation by saying something like, “I want to become President so that I can…” and hammer these issues home. Kerry can’t win on the war, but if he can change the subject to domestic issues, that’s a different matter.

Of course, the problem is: what are these 3 issues going to be? Kerry not only needs issues that people care about, he needs issues that allow the American people to clearly differentiate between his position and Bush’s position.

Health Care would be a no-brainer, as long as Kerry keeps it vague, because the base would love it, and the American people want changes. Of course, the GOP will quickly blunt the issue by pointing out the flaws in socialized medicine, but we’re almost in the home stretch here, so it’s worth a shot.

Finding the 2 other key positions is going to be tougher, because the other hot topics are all considered conservative issues. I’m talking about things like an illegal immigration crackdown, some sort of Balanced Budget Amendment, and perhaps even Term Limits.

Sure the base won’t like it, but ya gotta figure most lefties this year are going to be voting against Bush, not for Kerry, so I’d say go for the anti-immigration crackdown and a Balanced Budget Amendment. It may not make the lefties in the party happy, but they may be willing to live with it if they can get rid of Bush.

Of course, Kerry would be accused of flip-flopping on these issues, but what else is new? If he talks about them incessantly and doesn’t go off message, people may start to believe he’s serious by November the 2nd.

3) Practice, practice, practice — prepare, prepare, prepare for those debates. In fact, treat the debates like they’re winner-take-all for the presidency because they’re the last, best shot Kerry will have to make a connection with the voters.

Maybe those suggestions sound a little radical, but we’re less than 60 days out from the election and nobody knows what Kerry stands for, people don’t like him, and I’m guessing that JFK is about 6 points behind. So if you ask me, the “same old, same old” probably isn’t going to produce a win unless Kerry gets lucky. So trying something a little different probably isn’t the worst idea in the world at this point…

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