When you are a spokesperson on a campaign you really have one job -- follow the script. You have your talking points. Use them. If you freelance, you do so at your own peril.
Going for the win
It's kind of like the head coach of the Denver Broncos, Mike Shanahan this past Sunday. With only seconds to go in the 4th quarter the Broncos scored a touchdown and were an extra point away from putting the game into overtime. The textbook says, you go for the sure thing - the extra point and then play it out in OT.
Shanahan has a little riverboat gambler to him. He, to the complete surprise of the veteran play-by-play announcers, went for the two-point conversion. If they wouldn't have scored he would have been lambasted. But he rolled the dice. And with plenty of drama the Broncos got the two points. Denver wins. And Mike Shanahan is crowned a genius.
In politics, you can gamble too. You can stray from your talking points but you better know what you're doing.
Bounds vs. Brown
As painful as it was to watch McCain spokesman Tucker Bounds on CNN being grilled by anchor Campbell Brown during the Republican convention (and it was very painful) - he did what he was paid to do. Follow the script. Regurgitate the talking points.
Bounds, you'll remember, was being asked what specific national security experience Sarah Palin brought to the table. Bounds answered everything but the question. Brown wouldn't relent. Bounds hung in there. It was tough going but he did not deviate. So tough that veteran White House aide David Gergen expressed admiration for Bounds after the interview.
Call it ugly. Call it contrived. Call it whatever you'd like. This is just how campaigns work.
Fiorina was asked by a St. Louis radio station announcer if she thought Sarah Palin had the experience to run a company like Hewlett-Packard. Fiorina replied, "No, I don’t. But you know what? That’s not what she’s running for."
Another way to answer the question would have been, something like, perhaps: "Yes."
That's one stumble. But it went from bad to worse. In the next interview she clarified the first remark by stating John McCain couldn't run a major company either. And then added that Obama and Biden were equally unqualified.
Despite the fact that she seemed to be saying that it is helpful to have a business background to run a corporation, on a day when the economy was the total focus, these comments don't work.
How bad a gaffe was it? Well, any substantial gaffe throws the message off for the day. No matter what the campaign tries to get out, they can't because everyone is focused on the mistake. As a result, it's a lost day and depending on many variables it can be two or three days or even a week. It can turn into a possessed Energizer Bunny.
And for the campaigns stuck in the middle of it, they will try anything to get out of it. Think of two very recent examples - one the McCain campaign had to deal with and one the Obama campaign wrestled with:
1. The selection of vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin and if she was properly vetted. McCain campaign staff became so fatigued by this question they finally just said "no more." They announced they would no longer answer this question. Of course it helped when Palin delivered her home-run speech at the convention.
2. Obama discussing McCain being an agent of change. Lampooning this Obama said, "you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig." The McCain camp immediately charged Obama called Sarah Palin a pig because of her oft-told joke about pitbulls, lipstick, and hockey Moms. This took days for the media to drop.
As for Fiorina, some say she's toast. CNN is reporting she's done for the time being.
"Carly will now disappear," this source said. "Senator McCain was furious." Asked to define "disappear," this source said, adding that she would be off TV for a while – but remain at the Republican National Committee and keep her role as head of the party’s joint fundraising committee with the McCain campaign.
Fiorina was booked for several TV interviews over the next few days, including one on CNN. Those interviews have been canceled.