BLG Leadership Insights

The Maverick Mistake

In late September of 2008, in the aftermath of the Lehman Brothers collapse and the bailout bill finding tepid support amongst legislators; John McCain decided he needed to act. He suspended his campaign and rushed to Washington to broker a deal.

John Heilemann and Mark Halperin in their recent book, Game Change, argue that McCain’s actions might have over empathized his ability to construct a swift reconciliation with the Democrats and Republicans. They write,  “McCain’s instinct when he saw a problem was to charge straight at it and try to solve it. He started thinking I can do this. I can cut this deal.”

Vision alone will not mobilize stagnant forces to create and sustain action. What becomes important in this context is strategic agility.The ability to jump into action and capitalize on opportunities and networks with incomplete information and time pressure.

“In staging his return to Washington on September 25, McCain left a great deal to be desired. There was no careful coordination with House Republicans or the White House. There was no media strategy, no plan for a press conference. Nothing. McCain just showed up in his Senate Office and said, Okay let’s see what I can do to get something moving here.”

Before embarking upon Washington, guns blazing, the McCain team should have done a better job identifying potential allies and resistors, while considering how these actions would be interpreted by the media and general public. In failing to think strategically the McCain campaign ceded the ability to frame the issue and in the midst of a presidential campaign it’s no small penalty. This oversight coupled with the Palin debacle cast doubt on McCain’s most important claim to the White House: experience.