Here's part two of our three part conversation with Brian Jones, former RNC Communications Director and John McCain for President Communications Director.
OL&L: Our concern, and maybe the concern of other conservative voters is that when it comes to the general election, and there are more than just ardent Republicans and Democrats voting, do you think that “like-ability” will have a better or broader appeal? How will the Republican candidate combat that superficial appeal?
Brian Jones: Hillary’s appeal may be superficial and image based, but let’s face it, she’s not a like-able candidate. Even Democrats I talk to—and I think most Democrats would agree—say she’s not as like-able as Obama.
The challenge for Obama, if he gets the nomination, is how does he maintain this rockstar-like status? How does he maintain that aura for eight, nine, ten months? It just seems that in today’s media environment, we’ve seen what can happen with other candidates. It doesn’t take long to be this inevitable, floating-above-everything candidate, like Rudy Giuliani. Then, the next thing you know, you’re on the outside looking in.
One thing McCain does have is that like-ability factor, a certain honesty, a genuineness that people appreciate. Sometimes it works against him. Sometimes that genuineness strikes people as a little too much candor or even anger. I think it’s just genuineness, honesty, candor. And I think most people connect with him on that level. They might not always agree with him, but they know he’s always going to give it to them straight.
OL&L: So you see him as being able to rival the like-ability of Barack Obama?
Brian Jones: You see it with members of the press and I think you see it with voters too. He may not be able to match Obama’s like-ability, but that will be offset by other facets of McCain’s personality. In McCain you have someone with impeccable foreign policy credentials. Granted, the economy has taken center stage, but there’s news out of Iraq today that al-Qaeda is training children to shoot weapons and be suicide bombers. This problem is not going to go away. For people who are fed up with government spending, McCain has a long record of fighting government waste.
If it’s Barack versus McCain, Obama may be the more like-able candidate, but that’s not going to take him all the way. And McCain’s straight talking will help offset that.
OL&L: As you mentioned before, McCain has the next 10 months to point out that there’s more to being President than just being well liked—we aren’t voting for the junior class president.
Brian Jones: McCain can sometimes be a little streaky as a politician, but he is a great story teller. I saw it when I traveled with him. He has this ability to really get people wrapped up in what he is saying. I don’t think it has come out in this campaign yet. I remember one instance, when we were riding on the bus all day long and he was telling stories about the ’96 Dole campaign and other campaigns. There were staffers and reporters and a couple of local supporters on the bus for the last stretch. We got to the hotel and no one had realized the bus had stopped because they were so in to the stories he was telling. The bus driver had to come back and say, “hey, we’re at the hotel now.”
He’s got that ability to connect with people in a way that other politicians don’t. That hasn’t received as much attention because of the media infatuation with Obama. Huckabee is also a great communicator. But McCain clearly has strengths there, too.
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