[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/16/art.schmidtpt0416.gi.jpg caption="McCain's campaign was doomed long before Election Day, his former top strategist said Thursday."] (CNN) - John McCain’s general election campaign began as “the strategic equivalent of throwing a football through a tire at 50 yards” – and was doomed weeks before Election Day, his former chief strategist said Thursday.
“We were running a campaign under extra difficult circumstances - the state of the Republican Party, the president’s unpopularity, the economy - a lot of issues that were not John McCain’s fault, but were John McCain’s problem in this race,” Schmidt told an audience at the University of Delaware, according to Politico. “When Lehman Brothers collapsed in the fall I knew pretty much right away that ... from an electoral strategy perspective, the campaign was finished.”
Schmidt and Obama campaign manager David Plouffe - who both attended, but did not graduate from Delaware - shared the stage and looked back at the 2008 campaign.
Schmidt praised Obama's political skills. “This was, in my view, the unfinished Bobby Kennedy campaign - the idealism, the passion, the inspiration he gave to people, it was organic and it was real and it wasn’t manufactured at a tactical level in the campaign,” he said.
The Republican strategist said Sen. John McCain passed over his first choice for vice president - Democrat-turned-Independent Joe Lieberman - in favor of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to avoid an all-out GOP civil war.
“It was communicated back to us very clearly from within the party that not only was Senator Lieberman not acceptable, but any pro-choice nominee was not acceptable, [and] it would lead to a floor fight at the convention with an alternate nominee for vice president put into play.
“Blowing up the party wasn’t one of the menu items of things that were going to improve our situation,” he said.
Schmidt also criticized his party’s political performance in the early days of the Obama presidency.
“As a matter of reality, in the first 100 days, [the Republican Party] has not done anything to improve its political position with regards to the fact that it has been a shrinking entity,” he said.
Last week, the former McCain aide told a group of gay Republicans it was critical for the party to seriously weigh support for same-sex marriage.