Did Mark McKinnon have a problem with John McCain? Not really—but he tells Meghan he did have a problem with the idea of attacking Obama’s “historic candidacy.”
Meghan McCain: I just think a lot of people are curious about that. You just thought at the last minute that President Obama antithesized more what you wanted the direction the country to go in?
Mark McKinnon: Not so much. I was 100 percent for your dad from the beginning to the very end. I was never conflicted about that. The only think I was conflicted about was running a campaign attacking Obama. I’d spent a little bit of time with him, and read his books, and had a sense of what the campaigns might be like, and as I flashed forward to what—at that time—seemed like an improbability, that it would be your dad and Obama running against each other. But I flashed forward and just had a sense that I would be uncomfortable in the front chair attacking this historic candidacy.
And I tell you it was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made in my life, because I love your dad so much, and have spent so much time with you, and everybody else. And it really was a band of brothers and sisters. So that day and that week that I had to walk away was excruciating. And I was so stressed out I thought my head was going to explode. But your dad was incredibly gracious about it, and said he understood, and said that he’d really appreciated the time that I’d spent with the campaign and being part of the team.
Is the Republican Party dead? Meghan on why it’s strange to be a 24-year-old Republican—and Mark on why supporting Obama will soon be “uncool.”
McCain: I think that what’s interesting right now is that in a lot of ways the Republican Party has died. I wonder, from your perspective, because you are such good friends with President Bush—you were just on a plane with him—what do you think went so wrong with communication and just in general? I know, for me, I’m 24 years old, and when I go out, people are often surprised, obviously if they don’t know me, that I’m a 24-year-old Republican and why? My political beliefs have changed. I was an independent at the beginning of the campaign and when I was in college. Now I do consider myself a Republican, just because I spent two years educating myself. So what do you think is so wrong?
McKinnon: Well, first of all, it’s never popular among young people to be part of the establishment. It is right now because Obama was just elected. You know, four years from now, or eight years from now, it may not be so cool to be part of the establishment.
McCain: That’s a very good point. I never thought of that, actually.
McKinnon: Yeah, it’s just never cool to be part of the establishment. And it turns out we were part of the establishment for eight years, so younger voters were turning away. And so that’ll change over time. But again, I think that politics is about the marketplace of ideas, and the market are voters. And as Dick Gephardt said it in a forum I did with him a couple of weeks ago: “Politics gets pretty messy, but it’s a better alternative than violence.”
And so, it’s important, these things that we struggle for. And Republicans, they got whipped pretty good this time, and we’re going to have to regroup and figure out ways to start communicating in a way that’s friendlier and faster and smarter.
So how did it feel to be member of the McCain family on inauguration day? Meghan says she couldn’t bring herself to watch the whole ceremony—but shares what she thought of Michelle’s dress.
McKinnon: So how are you doing these days, and how’s your mom doing?
McCain: I’m good. I’m really good. I’m working here at The Daily Beast, and I’m glad to see many people from the campaign are working on it, too. And everybody’s good.
I think the inauguration was a little bit emotional. I watched a bit of it because I wanted to see what Michelle was going to wear, and I really liked her dresses, they were very beautiful.
But it was a little emotional, obviously. You work so hard for something, and to not to have it happen...But my parents both said [the Obamas] were really nice, and really gracious. And my Nana and my brother went, and they both had a good time, so I just think it’s time for everyone to move forward, and move on in their lives. I’m in a good place.
McKinnon: Good, that’s great to hear.
McCain: Yeah, you gotta accept what people want. I didn’t watch the entire thing on TV. Did you?
McKinnon: No, I saw it up until we got on the airplane to fly home. But like I said, I don’t care what your party was, it was impossible not to look at that and not feel pretty good about the whole thing and just have a real feeling of pride.
Mark McKinnon on why Bush is so incredibly misunderstood—and why even Obama liked him once he actually spent time with him at the White House.
McCain: Why do you think, with President Bush especially, for everything that I’ve ever heard from everyone was that he’s really funny, and gregarious and sweet, and I’ve never really gotten that from media coverage? Why do you think that is?
McKinnon: I know, it’s been a real source of frustration for me and a lot of other people who know that side of President Bush. You probably saw some of it in the campaign. It’s really hard, and it’s increasingly hard with the proliferation of media, to provide that kind of exposure and transparency that we’d like to. To get kind of behind the curtain and show the human side. I think that’s what people really want to see. They’re not expecting perfection from their candidates, they just want to see an ounce of humanity. And when they see that, it says something sort of about what’s in these people’s souls.
And President Obama even said, after spending time during the transition with President Bush, he’s been quoted as saying he now thinks that he’s a good man, and that he had tough decisions to make during tough times, but he did it based on the best information that he had at the time. Obviously his own opinion, after a very tough campaign, was reshaped by spending personal time with President Bush. And the same thing with your dad. Any journalist that spent any real time with him fell in love with the guy. So I hope that President Obama can find a way to do that. It’s even harder when you’re the president to pierce that veil.