Overplaying Your Trump Card

Politicians that successfully maneuver themselves into the limelight often get there through exploiting their successes. This is not a new practice. In the sixteenth century, Italian philosopher Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli argued that a politician needed to do the right thing in a very public way. The public’s awareness of doing good was what won over the populace, not the actual act itself. Regardless of the ethics, there quite a lot of truth behind this principle. However, there is a point of saturation when a politician relies too much on one of his achievements. We saw the effects of this in Rudy Giuliani’s campaign when he repeatedly used the reference of 9/11 during his presidential platform– and we are finding it now in Senator John McCain’s campaign with his reference to the 2007 U.S troop surge in Iraq.

In a MSNBC Democratic presidential debate on October 30, 2007, Senator Joe Biden argued Giuliani was overemphasizing his role and the significance of his work during 9/11 for his presidential bid. In his typically colorful manner, Biden charged:

And the irony is, Rudy Giuliani, probably the most underqualified man since George Bush to seek the presidency, is here talking about any of the people here. Rudy Giuliani… I mean, think about it! Rudy Giuliani. There’s only three things he mentions in a sentence — a noun, a verb, and 9/11. There’s nothing else! There’s nothing else! And I mean this sincerely. He’s genuinely not qualified to be president.

Biden’s comments were not off mark. Giuliani had overextended himself by relying too heavily on one public act (which in itself contains a myriad of individual actions). Giuliani had milked his work during 9/11 too much, and he had nothing else to maintain his momentum.

Giuliani exits stage right.

McCain enters, stage left.

John McCain was behind in the Republican primary polls at the beginning of December, 2007. Rudy Giuliani was the frontrunner, followed by Gov. Mitt Romney and an increasingly popular surprise from Gov. Mike Huckabee. However, after trailing for almost a year behind his fellow presidential contenders, McCain found new political footing in his War Persona, particularly in his adamant support of a U.S troop surge in Iraq that he had maintained since its inception.

It was shortly about this time that important U.S officials found that the 2007 troop surge was effectively mitigating the violence in Iraq. In January, 2008 the Bush administration acknowledged that key instrument in the increased development in Iraq was due to the U.S troop surge in January, 2007.

McCain’s support for this military tactic won him over political converts and catapulted him into the seat of Republican presumptive nominee. Since winning the Republican nomination, McCain has argued that he will engage in policy debates, not character attacks with Barack Obama. The most distinctive difference in policy between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama is with the U.S war in Iraq.

One of McCain’s strategies is stressing his support for the 2007 troop surge, a tactic that worked for him during the Republican primary. However, the effectiveness of this ploy has not produced similar effects. McCain’s decision to place most of his political capital behind the surge and his position has proved to be as destructive as beneficial in recent months.

For instance,

McCain confuses Iraq’s borders with Iran’s borders:

McCain confuses Al Qaeda with Iranian extremists:

McCain confuses the timeline for the troop surge:

McCain’s missteps have not gone unnoticed by the Obama campaign, which has chosen to criticize him for this. Arguably, at this point McCain’s stance on the troop surge is as helpful as it is detrimental to his campaign.

Perhaps the biggest blowback to McCain’s Iraq platform was the recent Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki endorsement of Barack Obama’s position on Iraq. The motives behind Maliki’s request for U.S troops to leave Iraq by 2010 are unclear: he could be betting on Obama to win the election; then again, he could be responding to increasing pressure by Iraq rival politicians who share the same sentiments, or he is simply voicing the wants of his people.

While Maliki’s endorsement could come from a plethora of motives, there is a bevy of data that shows the vast Iraqi majority supporting Maliki’s feelings. Noam Chomsky wrote two years ago in January, 2006:

Elections, if taken seriously, mean you pay some attention to the will of the population. The crucial question for an invading army is: “Do they want us to be here?”

There is no lack of information about the answer. One important source is a poll for the British Ministry of Defence this past August, carried out by Iraqi university researchers and leaked to the British Press. It found that 82 per cent are “strongly opposed” to the presence of coalition troops and less than 1 per cent believe they are responsible for any improvement in security.

Unlike Rudy Giuliani, John McCain has many strengths and important national contributions to bring to the presidential circuit. Unfortunately, McCain has not taken full advantage of them. Instead, the two large legs of McCain’s platform are the troop surge and his support of the Bush administration’s stance on Iraq. In many ways, he has overplayed his stance on the surge, and his consistent gaffes about Iraq might cost him the moderates. Perhaps even more destructive would be if Prime Minister Maliki continues to openly support Barack Obama over John McCain. One could fault the media for spins, or international agents for their efforts, but in the end, this is the house that McCain built.

  • Elizabet

    “The most distinctive difference in policy between Senators John McCain and Barack Obama is with the U.S war in Iraq.”

    This statement is wildly incorrect. There are many distinctive differences in McCain’s and Obama’s policy proposals.

    Perhaps you meant to say that the only issue of the campaign in which McCain is seen as stronger than Obama is the Iraq war? Or maybe you meant to say “the only distinctive FOREIGN policy difference”?

    This kind of thing in a blogger really bothers me. If I see something so patently inaccurate given as fact, I tend not to be able to believe the rest of the post.

  • Josh

    Now, normally I don’t think I’d criticize McCain for those mental slips, I mean the guy is in his seventies. However, seeing as how he is running almost wholly based on his perceived military credentials. Now I may not be a great military strategist like McCain (cough), but I have to say I think that the a grasp on the geography of the area, who the enemy actually is, and the timeline (both backward and forward) for fighting said enemy would probably be the best place to start if one wanted to effectively take control of a situation.

    You wanna know what else I think? I think that McCain has absolutely zero ability to manage a military situation. McCain’s military leadership days (at a low level no less) are long past. The military circumstances at that point in time differ greatly from the situation we face now, and I don’t honestly believe that McCain has the knowledge neccessary to manage this war.

    The other problem with McCain, and this is where he differs so greatly from Obama on foreign policy, is that he seems completely unwilling to listen to the views and ideas of those on the ground, as well as leaders around the world. Barack Obama is actually listening what people like Maliki have to say, and that’s probably why Maliki endorsed Obama’s position (McCain’s goes against everything that Maliki has been stating as of late). McCain is really more of George Bush in this aspect. If George Bush had listened to world leaders before invading Iraq, it’s likely we wouldn’t have been there in the first place and the situation in Afghanistan would have been over by now. Even after the invasion of Iraq, Bush failed to listen to his own military leaders, and if he would have in that case the situation in Iraq would now be over and the country stablized. McCain has the exact same mindset, he thinks he knows everything about the situation at hand, and he is unwilling to take input from other, obviosly more informed sources. McCain’s obvious animousity toward nations in the Middle East, and around the world as well, makes this fact all the more frightening.

  • Rayven

    Thank you for noticing that Josh. I’ve been watching gaffe after gaffe that McCain makes ,wondering if anyone was paying to how much he rely on the generals on the ground .Almost as if there are the foreign policy maker.Kinda makes me wonder who gonna be in charge.

  • Elizabet – every eligible Democratic nominee during the primary agreed that the biggest and most distinguishing difference in platform between them and the Republicans was the war in Iraq. This is not a speculation in my part. This was echoed by Republicans and later by Mitt Romney, who talked about the threat of letting a Democrat into the White House.

    For example, see: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/politics/jan-june07/debate_06-04.html

    The last one, dated July 9, 2008, reads: “Going strictly by the numbers, the biggest perceived difference between Barack Obama and John McCain can be found on the issue of Iraq. Seventy-eight percent (78%) of Democrats think the Democrat’s top priority in Iraq will be getting the troops home. Rasmussen Reports national telephone surveys show that 76% believe McCain’s top priority will be to finish the job in the Middle Eastern country.”

    You can certainly argue that there are a diverse amount of differences in policies on many issues, some significant, some not, between McCain and Obama. However, the most prominent one to date between the two has been the war in Iraq. One was for the war in Iraq– one was against the war in Iraq. This is very distinct– which is why I used this adjective. I did not claim this policy difference to be empirically the most different, but rather the most distinct (perceived as such).

    Instead of accusing someone of being “wildly” inaccurate, why don’t you instead provide some meat behind your suggested alternative viewpoint.

  • Babs

    If gaffes were to be the defining moment in a candidate’s campaign, both McCain and Obama would shine like angels. Let us not forget Obama thinks we have 57 states excluding Alaska and Hawaii:


    And sees fallen heros (dead) in audience:

    And gets a little sideways on his history in the same speech:


    And I could go on and on, but you get the point, from Iran being a tiny inconsequential country to Iran being a “grave threat”.

    I will make the point here that you are correct in pointing out that Iraq is a major difference between the two candidates. What you fail to point out, not surprisingly, is that an overwhelming percentage of Americans – according to ALL the polls – trust the old man with our military situation, not Obama. So gaffes or not (and we all make those, even us insignificant everyday folks), McCain could win the election on this issue alone. I realize these gaffes came out in a memo from the Obama camp as this weeks talking points, but he would do better to address his own.

    Having said that, I believe the election will be won as much on the domestic drilling issue as anything else. The democrats are holding the American people hostage over this issue, and ignoring our wishes. And Obama is in the tank with them.

    Just my 2 cents. I’m sure you’ll straighten me out, Michael. 😉

  • Babs, the main thrust of my editorial was to show how the U.S Surge has so far occupied the main seat in McCain’s campaign. All candidates commit gaffes, it just becomes more costly when the gaffes reflect that major artery (that doesn’t need to be, for McCain, but right now is).

  • nzpudding

    If McCain thinks his argument that he was for the surge and Obama was against it is something worthwhile peddling to the public as a reason to vote him President, especially when (according to http://icasualties.org/oif/) there’s been over 1100 American soldiers killed and 7000 wounded since the surge began in Feb 2007 has been a success, then the bloke is mad and needs better advisors.

  • romanboy8

    Let’s keep this simple. If the issue is the Iraq war, then Obama has the trump card. He wasn’t even for going into Iraq in the first place. The fact that McCain is celebrating his minor victory is very hurtful to his campaign. This is like my little brother finally beating me in monopoly after the 1000th time.