November 11th, 2008

Reflections On A Great Campaign And An Honorable Man

file under Fred Malek, John McCain - Fred Malek @ 8:49 pm
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My blog has been dormant for the past six months due to my focus on the McCain campaign as well as business – not that anyone noticed. However, one of my two loyal followers (confession – my daughter) suggested it would be worthwhile to share some of my observations on the longest and most expensive campaign in history. I will follow this, as time permits, with a little more detail on various facets of the campaign.

First, by way of background, I served as a Co-Chairman of the campaign for over two years, becoming Deputy National Finance Chairman in February 2008. In May our Finance Chairman, Tom Loeffler, resigned and as a result, I became de facto National Finance Chairman for McCain 2008. I jumped in close to full time, attending 7:30am senior staff meetings, travelling to selective events with Senator McCain, and overseeing all of our fund raising efforts.

On a personal level, it was my honor and privilege to serve a truly great patriot who would have made a superb President. I made many new friends, worked with a wonderful team, and don’t regret a single moment. Some of the highlights were being at Senator McCain’s side in Dallas, the night he clinched the nomination …

… and staying with the McCains at the Sedona cabin on several occasions. I even got him to wear a West Point (USMA) hat.

Now, let me comment briefly on John McCain, Sarah Palin, fund raising, and why we lost. I will follow this, as time permits, in the next few weeks with a little more detail on each.

John McCain

John McCain is simply one of the finest and most honorable men I have ever met. He is at one point a great statesman, and at the same time a regular guy who likes nothing better than hanging out in jeans and an old T-shirt, cooking ribs and hamburgers for his guests in Sedona. There is no pretense here – what you see is what you get – the real deal. But what impressed me most during this long campaign were his indefatigable energy, his determination and his consistency in putting country first. Who can ever forget his decision to lead the support for the surge in Iraq when the American public was squarely against it? He knew this could cause him to lose the nomination, and it almost did. As he dropped to single digits in the polls and was all but written off by the national press, he led the fight to reform immigration, an anathema to so many of our best supporters and contributors. It became next to impossible to raise money during this period, but his example kept us together, working hard during the long summer of 2007. Remember his cost cutting and his traveling alone, carrying his bag through airport security, conducting town halls and restaurant stops through New Hampshire. Determination, honor, conviction – that’s John McCain.

Sarah Palin

I did not recommend Sarah Palin and was surprised by her selection. However, I am now a fan and deplore the small minded people who are striking out against her. Sarah and her husband, Todd, spent time with Marlene and I at our home in Virginia in early September. She is smart, quick, charming, and able. Both Sarah and Todd impressed us on a personal level, and of course her ability as a communicator has been proven. If there are any questions on her preparation for interviews, the finger should point not at her but to those who helped her prepare. Having talked to the top people in the campaign, I am convinced that any criticism has come from third level, fourth raters who for some reason have an axe to grind. Sarah Palin will have an important role in the future of the Republican Party.


There has been a lot written on fund raising, and I intend to share more in depth observations later. At this point, let me share a few highlights:

  • Fund raising for the McCain primary and McCain-Palin 2008 was by far the most successful in history for a Republican presidential campaign.
  • The campaign raised over $400,000,000 eclipsing the record set by Bush-Cheney 2004. These numbers include money raised for the Republican National Committee, under the McCain-Palin Victory 2008 banner.
  • We exceeded by substantial margins every goal or challenge given to us by campaign leadership.
  • The Trailblazer, Innovator, Navigator and Aviator programs helped enormously in our major donor fundraising. We recruited over 1,000 people who together accounted for close to $100 million funds raised.
  • Senator Obama did raise more, but not as much more as believed when one considers the huge amount his campaign raised and spent during their long, contested primary. In my view, the key advantage Senator Obama enjoyed was the flexibility to spend his money however he pleased due to the absence of public financing constraints.

Why We Lost

For my part, the best and most accurate summation can be found in Charles Krauthammer’s column in the November 7 Washington Post. He wrote:

“The patient was fatally stricken on September 15 – caught in the rubble when the roof fell in.” He adds: “This was not just a meltdown, but a panic. For an agonizing few days, there was a collapse in faith in the entire financial system….This did not just have the obvious effect of turning people again the incumbent party, however great or tenuous the responsibility for the crisis. It had the more profound effect of making people see shelter in government.”

That, in my view, was the key to our loss. Never in my life have I seen anything remotely as crippling and trouble as this meltdown. Never in the history of polling have 90 percent of the population felt the country was going in the wrong direction. Did the campaign make some mistakes? Of course, but all campaigns do. And the campaign did a lot of things right. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that John McCain came back from the near death to win the nomination and was actually about three points ahead before the financial collapse.

And of course, David Plouffe and David Axelrod ran a superb campaign for Senator Obama, who proved to be a fine orator and campaigner. As my own candidate has stated, we Americans all pray for the success of President-elect Obama, and we will lend our support to help make it so.

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