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.