For three decades, Mark McKinnon has been solving complex strategic challenges for causes, companies and candidates, including former President George W. Bush, U.S. Sen. John McCain, and U2 front man Bono. Along the way, he has helped engineer five winning presidential primary and general election campaigns, and is a co-founder of No Labels, a nonprofit dedicated to bipartisanship. McKinnon is a frequent guest on MSNBC’s popular show, “Morning Joe,” and is often quoted as a political authority in The New York Times, Washington Post and Politico.
As the chief media strategist for the 2000 Bush for President Campaign and Bush’s 2004 re-election bid, McKinnon – aka the Media Guy has the distinction of being the last Republican strategist to win what is akin in the political world to two Super Bowl rings.
He remains a close friend and adviser to Bush, a fellow biking enthusiast who joins McKinnon for the annual bike ride with wounded veterans at the Bush ranch in Crawford, Texas.
Q. Given changing demographics that have the American electorate growing more unfavorable to Republicans while providing Democrats with an Electoral College advantage, what are the chances that George W. Bush could be America’s last Republican president?
A. While demographic trends certainly favor Democrats, it remains possible we could elect a Republican president. The bigger problem is that the Republican Party’s message has not adapted to the changing demographics. Instead of delivering a “compassionate conservative” message, the GOP has been instead offering a “caustic conservative” message which has been turning off the people we need to win a majority.
Q. Imagine it is 2016 Hillary Clinton is the Democratic presidential nominee, and you have your old job back as chief media strategist for the 2016 Republican nominee’s campaign. What strategy or message you would recommend using against Clinton?
A. Hillary Clinton will be formidable. She will offer what Obama lacked, and voters are now hungry for: experience. The best shot for the GOP will be to offer a real contrast, which would be a fresh face from outside the Beltway, likely a governor.
Q. Since Bush left office have you two ever discussed, or have you ever heard him complain about the media’s favorable treatment of President Obama, compared to the harsh treatment Bush was subjected to over the course of his presidency?
A. I never discuss private conversations I’ve had with President Bush. But I will tell you this, he is not by nature a complainer. He has nothing but gratitude for the time he served the country as Commander in Chief. If anything, I would suggest that he understands how difficult the job is and empathizes with anyone who sits in the Oval Office, no matter their party.
Q. What if President Bush’s IRS had targeted liberal groups for extra scrutiny and the agency supposedly “lost emails” of employees under investigation by a Democratic-controlled House? Wouldn’t that one story alone have generated non-stop negative headlines from media platforms across America? What does Bush think about the media’s double standards?
A. Oh, he would have been crucified and called the “New Nixon,” I’m sure. But he understood that Republicans always face a double standard with the media, and just dealt with it.
Q. Megyn Kelly, during her Sept. 4 Fox News show, ran a prophetic speech President Bush gave on July 12, 2007, when he warned what would happen if U.S. troops were prematurely withdrawn from Iraq saying:
“It would mean surrendering the future of Iraq to al Qaeda. It would mean that we’d be risking mass killings on a horrific scale. It would mean we’d allow the terrorists to establish a safe haven in Iraq to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan. It would mean increasing the probability that American troops would have to return at some later date to confront an enemy that is even more dangerous.”
How does Bush deal with the frustration that his successor ignored such warnings while the average politician would want to hold “I told you so” press conferences?
A. Again, I can’t and won’t speak for President Bush. But I think most Americans, myself included, certainly believe President Bush was prophetic and miss his steely resolve.
Q. Fifty years from now, how do you think historians will view Bush’s presidency?
A. It’s remarkable the extent to which the American public already views President Bush in a different light than they did just six years ago. Time, but more importantly, context is important. Voters had enormous expectations in President Obama, largely because he promised them the moon, and he couldn’t deliver. Now they see how tough a job it has been for him. We live in an increasingly challenging and dangerous world. It’s going to be a tough ride for anyone who occupies the office in the years ahead. And, as more and more people realize that, the more they will miss and appreciate the tenure of the 43rd president.
Cross-posted at BizPac Review