Fair is fair, after all.
Now, lets say that you were in the shoes of the winner of the Democratic primaries and you had to face Sen. McCain. What are the easiest ways to attack his record, gain MSM glamour and befuddle the population?
First you need to firm up the few traditional lines that can garner independent support, so first up is the old, tried and true, abortion question. No matter if it is Obama or Clinton this is an easy one to do. By casting Sen. McCain in the mold of nasty big government out to restrict 'rights', you can cast yourself in the 'pro-liberty' and 'pro-rights' light that the MSM so adores shining on those taking up the right to choose. Sen. McCain will have the choice of either waffling (and then it is time for a lovely ad campaign of what Sen. McCain said before and now) or firming up his stance and getting a few more conservative voters... which you will not be getting anyways. In doing that, while he will be showing his 'character' you have already cast Sen. McCain as a restricter of rights and kowtowing to conservatives on this issue. Instant pick-up of independents that may have been waffling on decisions! You can then pile on with the McCain-Feingold law and point out how ill-advised it was and that the SCOTUS has struck down major portions of it as unconstitutional. There is nothing like having a lawmaker in your sights that has pressed for unconstitutional laws to be passed on free speech.
Second is to hit at fiscal policy. You can, as Obama has already done, laud Sen. McCain's votes to not implement tax cuts and to make cutting taxes harder, if not impossible, and then show his *lack* of 'character' by waffling to conservatives on the issue. By putting forward a 'sensible policy' of taxing to cover expenditures (never mind you are about to add 50% on to the federal budget with a 'health care initiative') Sen. McCain can rightly and easily be painted into the fiscally clueless and uncertain of what economics actually *is*.
Third you, as the candidate, have to be prepared to actually alienate the flagging anti-war protestors, but also leave an 'out' so that you don't do so totally. By being utterly venal and yet looking like you are willing to 'give the Iraqis one last chance' before pulling out, you can absolutely and utterly blindside Sen. McCain. How do you do this? Looking at Iraq in an objective manner, the Parliament has already passed a major 'benchmark' and shown signs of understanding that it needs to get its act together. The armed forces have al Qaeda on the run and the Iraqi Army will have run a major operation with no coalition help to speak of in Mosul. Thus you can invent a few benchmarks that are pretty sure to be passed but have not passed *yet*. Which ones you use depends on the timing of the election, but currently good ones would be:
- Provincial election laws - These are necessary to get fully functioning Provinces with democratically elected governments. There is a damned good chance that by mid-2009 this will be done, so an easy one to pick up.
- Provincial elections - After the laws come the elections and you can come out in support of 'democratic ideals' and say that your Administration will even help to stand them up and run them! The elections will be soon after the laws are in place, say 3-6 months.
- Petroleum profit sharing agreement - The government is already doing this programmatically, and saying that the Iraqi Parliament will have a year or something to pass this, which will most likely come around the time of the Provincial elections, you get a pure winner.
The point is not to give any credit to the Republicans and you can tar Sen. McCain with the tropes of a 'poorly run Republican war' and that Sen. McCain only wants 'more of the same' while you are offering a final chance to Iraq and to help them 'close the deal' which Republicans just haven't been able to do with this conflict that has taken longer than WWII. You explain that you are holding an 'olive branch' across the aisle to give the Republicans a 'graceful exit' when asked about your *own* past positions and the MSM will eat that up like 5 year olds in a candy store with their mom's credit card in hand. Plus, since all of these are things that are expected to happen relatively soon, you can show yourself to be 'knowledgeable' about the situation (even if you don't know the differences between Basra and Anbar) and putting forward that *you* will do something the Republicans just haven't been able to do. For Sen. McCain to respond he will have to hew to his line and the moment he does so you can say that his continuous calling for 'more troops' makes him sound like a French general from WWI where just a few more troops in a frontal assault will win the day *this time*. You will offer diplomacy a few economic carrots, some easy to get benchmarks and then be able to both *declare victory* in your term in office which you will have *predicted* and shown that a Democrat is more capable than a Republican in this 'Nation building' area. And since you still live the absolute and total withdrawal option *open* and can always wiggle once in office, you shouldn't lose too many of the anti-war twits.
Who are they going to vote for? McCain? Not much to lose there and well off-set by independents. Plus you get the sweet deal of effectively removing Iraq as a 'plus' for Sen. McCain and making him look as a tired supporter of a tired policy, while you offer something 'new' and 'fresh'. And can you imagine how whiny Sen. McCain will sound if he tries to *protest* these relatively fair characterizations of him and the policy that has been going on? And if he tries to tack LEFT you can undercut him by pulling up past quotes, votes and such so that no matter how much he tries to show he had a 'different way' he just sounds like a complainer that can't even figure out what his current job is (not that you ever bothered to figure it out either).
No matter which way Sen. McCain turns as a candidate to show 'skill, experience, and character', you can easily find his support for things to the contrary either in his past (like his early vote not to cut earmarks when he was a Representative) or question his ability to actually form a policy decision that is not contradicted by his previous record (like his work to cut the DoD to get a 'peace dividend' and then complain that more troops aren't available for Iraq after they had already been cut out of the armed forces with his *help*). And since you have NO record to speak of, you can pretty well make any noises about 'control of defense spending' while 'protecting America' with something like a few more base closings or somesuch. The more Sen. McCain hems and haws about 'different era' or 'different times', the more he begins to look like a fossil in the Senate... which he is.
This is a no-lose proposition!
Any point he brings up has almost certainly been contradicted by his previous actions or his attempts to kiss-up to conservatives in the Republican party. You, as the nominee running against him and relatively free of such things, can be assured of no effective counter attacks and each of your attacks, no matter how minor, being played up by the MSM and showing how effective a campaigner and leader you are. And each one of those attacks will be a tweak to the Republican party to point out how incapable and incompetent they are in choosing candidates that have so badly managed their political positions over time that they stand for nothing save themselves.
Of course, you are doing the exact, same thing, but don't have the baggage to contend with, yet. Lucky, you!
And as al Qaeda makes it a point to wait until a new President is *elected* before attacking (look at Clinton in '93 and Bush in '01), you can rest assured that they will do nothing to bobble your plans by actually attacking during the campaign.