McCain reboots, gives rise to the Rovians

After major staff shake-up, McCain leaves his campaign in the hands of Karl Rove acolytes.

Published July 3, 2008 12:48PM (EDT)

After effectively securing the Republican nomination in early February, and officially crossing the delegate threshold in early March, John McCain had plenty of time to shape a general election game plan, decide on a message, and put a campaign infrastructure in place while Democrats continued the longest nominating fight in American history.

In that time, McCain pulled together a cadre of high-priced D.C. lobbyists to get his campaign on track. That is, until Wednesday afternoon, when we learned that Steve Schmidt was replacing Rick Davis as McCain's campaign manager. What was not immediately apparent, however, was that McCain has effectively rebooted his entire campaign operation, abandoned the structure it worked for months to create and given rise to Karl Rove's acolytes.

Senator John McCain's presidential campaign has gone through its second shake-up in a year. Responding to Republican concerns that his candidacy was faltering, Mr. McCain put a veteran of President Bush's 2004 campaign in charge of day-to-day operations, and stepped away from a plan to have the campaign run by 11 regional managers, Mr. McCain's aides said Wednesday.

The elevation of Steve Schmidt -- who worked closely with Karl Rove -- at Mr. McCain's headquarters represented a sharp diminishment of the responsibilities of Rick Davis, who has been Mr. McCain's campaign manager since the last shake-up nearly a year ago.

The shift was approved by Mr. McCain after several of his aides, including Mr. Schmidt, went to him about 10 days ago and warned him that he was in danger of losing the presidential election unless he revamped his campaign operation, two officials close to the campaign said.

And now, to stave off that defeat, McCain has embraced Karl Rove's operation. We already know that the man the president affectionately calls "Turd Blossom" has been advising the McCain campaign behind the scenes, but now the connections will be solidified. Rove's top acolyte is now in charge of McCain's operation, and two more top Rove aides -- Nicolle Wallace and Greg Jenkins -- will help direct the campaign.

It creates an odd dynamic -- McCain is assuring voters he doesn't represent a third Bush term, but he's running on Bush's policy agenda and has Bush's political operation running his campaign.

On an even more practical level, lobbyist Davis, who was managing McCain's team until Wednesday morning, had created an unusual structure in which there were 11 regional campaign managers, who were largely autonomous, as part of a system that had never been tried before. It had taken Davis months to set up the system, but the 11 mini-managers were in place for the general election.

Schmidt is now scrapping Davis' system altogether, and starting the campaign structure over from scratch.

Did McCain and his team really squander a four-month head start? It sure did.

By Steve Benen

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