No More Mr. Nice McCain: Advisor a Rove Acolyte Spreading "False," "Fierce Attacks"

"[Steve Schmidt's] stamp was reflected in the sharp tone of the scathing prime-time speeches, all of which Mr. Schmidt reviewed and approved, and some of which were criticized as stretching the truth."

Sunday's National Report leads with a profile of John McCain adviser Steve Schmidt by political reporters Jim Rutenberg and Adam Nagourney, "An Adviser Molds a Tighter, More Aggressive McCain Campaign." The text box provided this fearful clue: "A follower of Karl Rove brings a sharp shift in tone."It's safe to say that anyRove reference made by the Times is not meant to be a flattering one.

In the three months since [McCain's dreaded green screen night] in June, the McCain organization has become a campaign transformed: an elbows-out, risk-taking, disciplined machine that was on display here last week at the Republican convention that nominated Mr. McCain. And the catalyst for the change has largely been Mr. Schmidt, 37, a veteran of the winning 2002 Congressional and 2004 presidential campaigns, where he worked closely withKarl Rove,then Mr. Bush's senior strategist.

Mr. Schmidt's stamp

on the campaign this year was evident from the opening day of the convention to Mr. McCain's acceptance speech on Thursday.

His stamp

[Editor's Snark:Would that be adouble stamp?] was reflected in the sharp tone of the scathing prime-time speeches, all of which Mr. Schmidt reviewed and approved, and some of which were criticized as stretching the truth. It was evident in the campaign's fierce attacks on news organizations as they examined the extent to which Mr. McCain had vetted Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska when he chose her as his running mate, and reported on the pregnancy of her teenage daughter (the disclosures were released just as Hurricane Gustav was hitting the Gulf Coast, in a gambit of news management that is one hallmark of Mr. Schmidt's style).

As if no other campaign in history has ever tried to bury problematic news stories in similar fashion.

Naturally, Rutenberg and Nagourney found some that miss the old (losing) McCain, while suggesting the Barack Obama campaign is not hitting as hard (ignoring his supporters' hypocritical attacks on Sarah Palin, Obama's playing of the race card, and his recent blaming of the McCain camp and Fox News for people thinking he is Muslim.

Still, the new tone has been jarring to some veterans of Mr. McCain's presidential run in 2000 who worry that the campaign exudes a cynicism that undercuts the senator's old reputation for "straight talk" and a more elevated style of politicking. On a number of occasions, Mr. McCain's campaign advertisements have been described by campaign watchdog organizations as false or misleading, particularly those attacking Mr. Obama on tax votes. And the level of aggressiveness and risk-taking advocated by the hard-charging Mr. Schmidt leads to misses as well as hits; it certainly stands in contrast to the more orderly, controlled Obama campaign.


Mr. Schmidt is not quite a grand political strategist or tactician like Mr. Rove. His role for Mr. Bush in 2004 was running the war room - orchestrating often savage attacks on opponents, responding instantly to breaking news, digging up damaging information and pushing back on any criticism - and that shoot-first mentality infuses the culture of the retooled McCain campaign.

But with a drill sergeant's hectoring and a football coach's motivating, Mr. Schmidt, a thick tower of man with a shaved head who can go from jovial to belligerent in an instant, has largely imposed on Mr. McCain's once loose and feuding campaign the Bush tenets for success: relentless consistency in a combative message honed to disqualify opponents, hammered home by a campaign with clean lines of command.

Take out the loadedlanguage, and Schmidt's strategy doesn't sound like anything Democrat James Carville, another fierce bald campaign strategist, wouldn't have done (and probably been praised for in the liberal media as a case of standing up to the Republican attack machine).