A question I am often asked when I give talks or lectures is: Why
did the Bush communication effort end so badly? How did an
administration that once commanded such public support end by losing
all ability to make its case?
My answer is that the ultimate
failure was encoded into the initial success. The president's
communication team - of which Nicole Wallace was an important part -
shared the same disdain of "elites" that permeates so much of my
pro-Palin correspondence. It was not just the media elite that they
disregarded. (Who could blame them for that?) It was the policy elite
too. When the president wished to advocate, eg a tax cut, he did not
argue his case before the Detroit Economic Club or send a surrogate to
Jackson Hole. He made a rally speech before cheering supporters. That
made for effective soundbites and exciting images. But it abdicated any
effort to make an argument that could convince people who were not
predisposed to be convinced.
At first, this abdication did not
much matter. The president was popular, the public was united. But once
the administration encountered trouble and adversity, it discovered -
it found itself disarmed. It had no advocates other than its own
in-house communicators and the most committed partisans. There were
pitifully few respected independent voices ready to join the discussion
on behalf of the administration's policies. They could not convince,
because they had not been convinced.
Speaking directly to the
people works when the people are intensely engaged. But big publics pay
only intermittent attention to politics and policy. When that attention
is diverted, specialists and enthusiasts reclaim their usual
By that time however the argument may well have been lost among that portion of the public that is still paying attention.
Of course, Frum is arguing that it would be in the McCain campaign's long-term self-interest to let Palin do interviews. But the mere fact that Palin is on the ticket is proof that the McCain campaign is thinking purely in the short-term right now.