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McCain Narrative 2: Country-First Deal Maker vs. Nonpartisan Pretender

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The sage continues.

Also read the intro and Narrative 1.

From NY Times:

The campaign was in the throes of an identity crisis by June 24, when a number of senior strategists gathered at 9:30 a.m. in a conference room of McCain’s campaign headquarters in Arlington. As one participant said later, the meeting was convened “because we still couldn’t answer the question, ‘Why elect John McCain?’ ” Considering that the election was less than five months away, this was not a good sign.

“We had a narrative problem,” Matt McDonald recalls. “Obama had a story line: ‘Bush is the problem. I’m not going to be Bush, and McCain will be.’ Our story line, I argued, had to be that it’s not about Bush — it’s Congress, it’s Washington. And Obama would be more about partisanship, while John McCain would buck the party line and bring people together.”

The others could see McDonald’s line of reasoning — and above all, the need to separate McCain from Bush. But the message seemed antiseptic, impersonal. That was when the keeper of McCain’s biography, Mark Salter, took the floor. There’s a reason McCain bucks his party, McDonald remembers Salter arguing. It’s because he puts his country ahead of party. Then the speechwriter, who is not known for his dispassion, began to yell: “We’re talking about someone who was willing to die before losing his honor! He would die!”

Salter stalked out of the meeting to have a cigarette and didn’t return. But he had said enough. The metanarrative of Heroic Fighter was now joined with one that evoked postpartisan statesmanship. The new narrative needed a label. The first version was “A Love for America.” Then “America First.” And finally, the one that stuck: “Country First.”

Country First was a good line, and the way McCain’s camp rolled it out next proved to be their most effective attack yet against Obama.

More soon…