What happened in the McCain campaign?


It’s been an exciting Super Tuesday on msnbc.

According to YOU, via an msnbc.com unofficial unscientific online poll, Iraq is the issue of the day. Your votes tell us Iraq will weigh most heavily in deciding your vote in the 2008 presidential election.

Could John McCain, its most ardent advocate, become the war’s first political casualty?

Today, the former 2008 frontrunner announced the resignations of both his campaign manager and longtime chief strategist. As Senator McCain stood on the Senate floor defending the surge in Iraq, the announcement caught the political world off-guard. 

One big problem is McCain’s “burn rate.”  His campaign war chest reportedly has less money in the bank than back-of-the-pack candidate Ron Paul. And his poll ratings have sunk to single digits in Iowa.  Can a staff shake-up save his campaign? 

McCain, R-Ariz., said in a statement that he had accepted campaign manager Terry Nelson’s and strategist John Weaver’s resignations with regret, and he told reporters later that they had not been fired.

But former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, a longtime friend and trusted adviser to the campaign, told msnbc that was exactly what happened. Below is the transcript of the interview with former Gov. Frank Keating, conducted by msnbc’s Tucker Carlson. (WATCH VIDEO here)

TUCKER CARLSON:  Following today’s upheaval in that campaign, former Oklahoma governor Frank Keating is now the only person that campaign has out speaking on its behalf. He is here with us now. Governor, thanks a lot for joining us.

So what do you make of this?  I mean, is this the low point, preparatory to a resurgence?  Or is this a sign of real trouble?

FRANK KEATING:  No.  I mean, I really think that in a two-year campaign—and this is unprecedented in the history of the United States—in a two-year campaign, you’re going to have fits and starts and stalls and stops.

In John’s case, he’s had a very good fundraising quarter for the first quarter, a good fundraising quarter for the second quarter.  But he’s spent a lot of money.  He needed to consolidate, he needed to have one person placed in charge, instead of a committee of people.  And I think it’s going to make him a much stronger candidate, a much better candidate.

CARLSON:  I always thought the fact John Weaver was on the campaign was a sign of some deeper problem, though.  I mean, here’s a guy who’s an out-of-the-closet liberal, John Weaver, who was a Democrat up until, as far as I know, pretty recently, and he’s running the campaign of a guy who is already viewed with some suspicion by conservatives.  Why would he have a liberal running his campaign?

KEATING:  Well, I don’t think anybody knows that much about John Weaver’s background.  He’s a very bright guy, as you know.  He’s a very bright guy.  But McCain is a tremendous politician.  John knows his values.  He’s the only candidate on the Republican side who is consistently pro-life for 25 years.  Small government, low taxes, exactly what the conservative base should want.

I think he’s one who enjoys the clash of combat of ideas from a variety of different people.  But, as you know, as of today, John’s no longer in the campaign.


KEATING:  John Weaver.

CARLSON:  I was talking to someone in the campaign, or familiar with the campaign, who said that McCain hauled these two guys in yesterday and asked for a budget, a new budget, and there wasn’t one.  It sounds to me like the campaign—and you alluded to it a minute ago when you said they spent all the money—was fiscally mismanaged.  How did the candidate allow that to happen?

KEATING:  Well, the candidate—you know, those of us who’ve run for public office—you are out on the campaign trail, you are giving speeches, you are shaking hands, you are studying policy positions, you are debating your opponents.  You really are not in a position to watch the day-to-day operation of the campaign.

I think when John McCain watched the day-to-day operation of the campaign and saw that, in a two-year campaign, you can’t spend as much money as we have been spending.  You need to cut back, you need to make sure, instead of having two or three people giving you one good idea, maybe one person giving you that one good idea.  It’s a smart thing to do, because it’s a very long campaign cycle, and that’s what he’s doing.

I think it’s a smart thing, I think it’s a wise thing, and I think it’ll make him a stronger candidate.

CARLSON:  What was the catalyst?  What was the moment where Senator McCain said, these guys are screwing it up, we’ve got to change?

KEATING:  I think you look at the quarter—first quarter, thirteen million (dollars); second quarter, eleven million (dollars), and two million (dollars) in the bank.

CARLSON:  And that was it; when those numbers came out, he said—

KEATING:  Well, I mean, I was not sitting around the table.  I talked to John McCain this morning.  But I wasn’t sitting around the table discussing the intricacies of the budget of the campaign.  But I think anybody who’s been a candidate, you know you have a message, you know that you’re the messenger, you know that you are the right solution for the country.  But where’s all the money?  Let’s address the money so we can have a successful campaign all the way through November of ‘08.

CARLSON:  What else is going to change in the campaign?

KEATING:  Well, I mean, I think—I campaigned with John McCain, I think that he’s a man on a horse, he’s a statue, he’s a walking statue.  He’s an enormously significant hero.  He was brutalized by the North Vietnamese for all those years and never gave up and let his men leave before he did.

This is a wonderful courageous person.  The more people see him, I think more people will embrace him.  But you need to have one person making the decisions in the campaign, and you have to have one person who’s writing the checks.  And I think that’s what he’s doing.  I think it’s a wise thing to do.

CARLSON:  You spoke to him this morning—as you said, you’re—I think the only person who’s speaking on his behalf today on television.  Is he worried that this makes his campaign look out of control and makes him look weak, personally?

KEATING:  No, not at all.  I mean, the thing about McCain—look at the immigration debate, you know, look at the debate over the war.  All of the things that he’s doing are executive in nature.  He’s making decisions, taking positions that frequently are unpopular.  As far as he’s concerned, this is a campaign—he’s on the campaign till the end.
But obviously, the technology and the techniques for the campaign he has to address as the campaign evolves.  And if you’re spending a lot of money, you better rein it in and figure out where you’re spending it wisely, where you’re spending it…

CARLSON:  So he sees this as a series of management problems—it just wasn’t managed well.  But are there going to be any thematic changes?  I mean, I think he’s taken a lot of lumps for being seen as Bush’s ally on Iraq.  Will that change?

KEATING:  Well, I mean, he knows—and I’m one who never—who believed that we shouldn’t be in Iraq unless it were connected to 9/11, and it wasn’t.  But he knows that, now that we’re there—and he supported the war—but now that we’re there, it is central focus, ground zero in the war on terror.  We simply can’t walk out, or they’re coming here.  I think that’s absolutely true.  Anybody who’s been in the security business knows that.  Anybody who knows geopolitics in the Middle East knows that.  And it’s a very serious problem for the United States.  And I think that he has been consistent with his message, he is consistent with his theology.  Now he has to make sure he has the money in the bank to let the rest of the American people know it and see it.

CARLSON:  Does he see himself as responsible?  Does he believe he is responsible for the problems the campaign has had, or is it John Weaver’s fault?

KEATING:  I mean, ultimately, the person who is a candidate is responsible for his campaign, but the mark, I think, of an executive, the mark of someone who really is in charge, is when you find problems, you address them.  I mean, the worst thing to do—and I know a lot of people who have been candidates for high public office, they’ll continue mistakes.  Why?  Because they think, if I admit there’s a mistake, then somehow that’s a statement of me. Well, if there’s a mistake, fix it.  Move on.

CARLSON:  I remember in 2000, Fred Thompson was one of I think only three senators—DeWine and Lindsay Graham being the other two—who came out early for McCain.  It must be painful to watch Fred Thompson get into the race now and come out with higher poll numbers than McCain has.  Is it painful for him, do you think?

KEATING:  I don’t know.  I mean, he’s never said that.  I think any of us who have been candidates know that there are ups and downs.  Sometimes you’ll have an opponent who makes a good statement, looks good in a particular debate, move ahead of you.  But the reality is, if you are fastened into the soil, you know what you believe, you don’t change your basic value systems, you want to bring people around the table to resolve problems, like the immigration debate—again, the Democrats took over the House and the Senate.  The only way you resolve this problem is to sit everybody down.
I mean, there’s a comfort in that.  There’s a serenity in that, and I think John, at his age, at his experience in life, knows that this is the right thing to do and he’s comfortable with it.

CARLSON:  Did he sound serene this morning when you talked to him?

KEATING:  Very much so, yes.  Very much so.

CARLSON:  Governor, thanks a lot.  I appreciate it.

KEATING:  Thank you.  Thank you very much.

 * * *

CARLSON:  We’re back.  We’re here with Frank Keating, former governor of Oklahoma, who is the only person authorized to speak on behalf of the McCain campaign today, in the wake of news that there has been a shake-up in the campaign structure, with the top two strategists gone, to be replaced by the new campaign manager, Rick Davis.
Governor, welcome.

KEATING:  Thank you.  I was just walking on the sidewalk and you grabbed me.

KEATING:  This could be two dozen other people talking for the campaign.

CARLSON:  I’m pretty aggressive. What—Rick Davis, the new campaign manager—what is he going to do differently, and why him?

KEATING:  Rick has a wonderful political background, he has a good relationship with Senator McCain.  He is a decent, honorable, integrity-filled, intelligent person.  And I think he sees the big picture because of his relationship with the senator in 2000.  So, what is he going to do different?  I don’t know.  You’ve got a great candidate who has a very controversial, on occasion, message.  But I mean, these are not easy times.  We’re looking at a period of energy insecurity, the border and the immigration issue has not been taken care of—it has to be.  We have virtually no national savings.  We have a serious problem with terrorism.  We have an education system that’s not educating, to make our children competitive.  And you know—isn’t that enough?

What you need, obviously, is a candidate who is firmly committed to an agenda for change, an executive, if you will, and that’s McCain.

CARLSON:  There was a report yesterday in US News and World Report that the senator was being advised by some around him, that it might be a good idea to leave the Senate.  Do you think that’s a wise idea, and is it even on the table?

KEATING:  I haven’t heard that.  I know Senator Dole left the Senate.  I thought it was a mistake at the time.  I think if you’re elected to a job, you complete your job.  Especially when you have today, so many issues that are being debated.  McCain’s voice—and read the Tom Coburn—Senator Tom Coburn from Oklahoma, a very significant conservative—his piece last week in the Nation Review, where Coburn described McCain as the most courageous member of the Senate, even though he disagreed with him.

CARLSON:  Interesting.  Do you think Tom Coburn is going to endorse Senator McCain?

KEATING:  As a fellow Oklahoman, I wish he would, but I have no idea.
I mean, these are the things that a candidate has to advance, and I think John’s exactly the guy that’ll do it.

CARLSON:  Governor, thanks a lot.

KEATING:  Thank you.

What happened in the McCain campaign?