[total run time 6:45]
Steve Schmidt, senior advisor to Senator John McCain, is one of the top political strategists in America. Called “McCain’s message man” by Time magazine, Schmidt managed Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s come-from-behind landslide re-election victory in 2006. A protégé of Karl Rove, he ran the Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign war room. Later, he served as counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney, shepherding the nominations of Supreme Court Justices John Roberts and Sam Alito through the U.S. Senate and undertaking a mission to Baghdad to straighten out American communications operations in Iraq.
He represents the hardball side of the Bush/Cheney equation, having run the Bush/Cheney war room in ’04 and been counselor to the VP following that. And he represents the more independent-oriented side of the moderate Republican equation, having run Arnold’s campaign in which a critical piece was Schwarzenegger dramatically distancing himself from … Bush/Cheney.
Schmidt and I discussed branding, positioning, and, er, “contrasts.”
What is the McCain “brand”? Who is this guy as a person? Background, values. Is his persona more important than his politics?
How do you position McCain for the general election? In an environment in which your incumbent president is at near record levels of unpopularity and 80 percent of the voters say the country is on the wrong track, with an economic slowdown and trouble in the Middle East? How do you maintain contact with your ideological base and keep it motivated, while at the same time appealing to independents and moderates turned off by the current White House? How the heck did things go off the tracks in Iraq, following a smashing invasion performance, and how is it going now?
And speaking of “contrast” politics, let’s look at the weaknesses of Barack Obama. How do you get at those?