On Thursday, John McCain's campaign released a memo written by Steve Schmidt, a senior advisor to McCain, that recaps some arguments the campaign has been making recently and seems to presage what might be a central theme down the line. In the memo, titled "Country First Vs. Self-Serving Partisanship," Schmidt takes on the popular discontent with Republicans, arguing:
The problem is not a Republican Administration that has disappointed many or a Democratic Congress that cannot take action on the challenges facing our nation. The problem is that politicians in Washington are working for their own self-interest or that of their party.
The McCain camp is looking to kill a few birds with this one argument. First, it's making a case for McCain as devoted servant to his country above all else; the argument will rest in part on his experience as a prisoner of war and be used to make the case for him as someone above partisanship. Second, it's contrasting him with Barack Obama and arguing that Obama is not a patriot like McCain, that he is one of the self-interested politicians plaguing Washington. And third, it's trying to push back against and change voters' perceptions of Republicans as the reason for the country's problems.
Here's the full, unedited memo:
Today, our country faces great challenges. But the problem is not a Republican Administration that has disappointed many or a Democratic Congress that cannot take action on the challenges facing our nation. The problem is that politicians in Washington are working for their own self-interest or that of their party.
Too many in Washington are putting politics first and country second. Too few are setting aside their own interests to work together on solutions for America.
For John McCain, country first is how he has lived his life and how he has worked in Washington. When John McCain was offered early release as a prisoner of war, he refused, subjecting himself to torture rather than give a propaganda victory to his captors. Is it any wonder that during the Republican primary, John McCain was working with Democrats and talking about the need for comprehensive immigration reform? Is it any wonder that at the nadir of the Iraq war, John McCain was arguing for the successful surge strategy rather than timetables for withdrawal? Does anyone think that John McCain would have broken his word on a bipartisan agreement for public financing in the general, even if it accrued to his benefit?
Senator Obama's rapid ascent to the Democratic nomination is an historic achievement of which he should be proud. But while Senator Obama is certainly a fresh face, his campaign offers more of the same old typical politics that have broken Washington. In his time on the national stage, he has consistently put his party and his self-interest first.
On campaign finance, Barack Obama had to choose between keeping his word or enjoying a financial advantage. He chose the money. On town hall debates, Barack Obama called for an elevated, civil debate, but has worked to undermine the possibility of joint town halls where he would have to answer questions from real voters. On Iraq, Barack Obama has refused to acknowledge success on the ground because he would risk losing his base of support. Likewise on energy he has refused any supply solution to our energy crisis because of left-wing opposition.
There has never been a time when Barack Obama has bucked the party line to lead on an issue of national importance. He has never been a part of a bipartisan group that came together to solve a controversial issue. He has never put his career on the line for a cause greater than himself. Even as a state Senator, Obama voted "present" on controversial bills. We have seen Barack Obama forced to choose between principle and the interests of himself and his party. He has always chosen the latter.
We don't need to trade Republican partisanship for Democratic partisanship. We need to put our country first and put our politics second. That is what John McCain has done his whole life, and that is what he will do as President.
There are a few problems with Schmidt's argument here. First, McCain has his own problems with public financing, as he appears to have played the system for his own benefit. And Obama hasn't "refused any supply solution to our energy crisis because of left-wing opposition," he's proposed his own supply solutions, and his opposition to the ones McCain favors comes in part because he and his advisors correctly believe that those proposals will have no short-term effect on prices, if any. And, obviously, McCain has his own lengthy record of changing his positions for his own self-interest.