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McCain's Dilemma

Saturday, July 12, 2008
A few days ago I wrote about what I see as a series of strategic blunders by the Obama campaign. What I didn't do was situate these mistakes within the context of the broader electoral context. I do not want to leave people with the idea that I think Obama is going to lose. I don't. Frankly, I'd be stunned if he lost, given the underlying structure of the election: A soft economy, an unpopular war, 8 years of rule by one party, really high wrong track numbers and presidential disapproval, and a divided Republican Party? Are you kidding? George McGovern would have a shot this year.

Relatedly, there has lately been some discussion about why John McCain's campaign has been so terrible. He's an awful speaker, his campaign lacks strategic focus and can't seem to settle on a narrative, he's gaffe prone, and he doesn't really seem to have any idea why he wants to be President. If he didn't have such a fawning press corps to prop him up, he'd be 20 points behind rather than 5.

But to be fair, even if McCain were witty and charismatic, he'd still have an almost unsolvable problem. The conservative base of the party has become so powerful within the party (pretty much swallowing it whole) that McCain has absolutely no strategic flexibility. The conservatives were spoiled by Rove's catering to them - in Bush, they got pretty much everything they wanted: tax cuts, de-regulation, militarism, evangelical christianity, hostility to social and domestic policies advocated by liberals and moderates, and fierce partisanship. Now the conservatives expect that EVERY Republican nominee will be exactly the same. Bush is still rated fairly highly among conservatives, and even the ones who now claim he's not a conservative are only putting a higher burden of ideological purity on McCain.

Of course, Bush is so unpopular that McCain can't adopt these positions without forfeiting the election. And even when he tries to do so he looks ridiculous, since he clearly doesn't believe a word of it (except for the militarism). This the dilemma that any Republican candidate would face. So for all McCain's faults, it's not totally his fault he's behind. Even a good poker player would find it hard to win the pot holding nothing more than 8 high.

Not that I feel the least bit sorry for the thug.
Posted by Arbitrista @ 8:12 AM
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