McCain’s Early Fairwell

November 3, 2008

McCain’s recent appearance on SNL was the beginning of his path to regaining acceptance by the public and even more importantly — by the media — after the drubbing he is about to take in this election.

The long opening sketch made McCain look good while mercilessly drubbing Sarah Palin (she did an aside to camera promoting “Palin in 2012” t-shirts). McCain came across as the old, media-friendly ham he’s been for years, rather than the desperate to win, Rovesque character assassin he’s been the last months.

McCain will be a lonely man starting on Wednesday.  He’ll be reviled by the dominant, right wing of his party for not being tough enough and leading his party to ruin.  The moderates and liberals, who had once made McCain their favorite Republican, are unlikely to soon forgive him for the very low road he’s taken on the campaign.

By appearing in a skit that attacked the ambitiousness and duplicity of his own running mate, McCain was laying the groundwork for a mea culpa to the moderates and Dems (while further alienating him from the Republican right wing).  He’s making his pitch for relevance in a Democratic-controlled Senate.

My sense is that the Dems will be magnanimous in victory.  The more seriously they take McCain in the Senate, the more they’ll divide the Republican senators, and the Republican circular firing squad will continue through 2012.

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Rats & Sinking Ship

October 26, 2008

There are two interesting articles out now about the McCain campaign’s experience with Palin.  First, from CNN:

“Her lack of fundamental understanding of some key issues was dramatic,” said another McCain source with direct knowledge of the process to prepare Palin after she was picked. The source said it was probably the “hardest” to get her “up to speed than any candidate in history.”

Well, ok, no surprise there.   The real question is, how did this situation happen?  The mere cynic would assume they knew she was an ignorant candidate and chose her anyway to get some response from the base.  However, the mere cynic would be wrong.  From the New York Times Magazine:

The following night, after McCain’s speech brought the convention to a close, one of the campaign’s senior advisers stayed up late at the Hilton bar savoring the triumphant narrative arc. I asked him a rather basic question: “Leaving aside her actual experience, do you know how informed Governor Palin is about the issues of the day?”The senior adviser thought for a moment. Then he looked up from his beer. “No,” he said quietly. “I don’t know.”

Mere cynicism isn’t enough.  The McCain staffers never asked Palin about what she knew.  Either they assumed she must know something, because, hell, she’s a governor, or they were caught up in naming an attractive, right-wing woman on the ticket, they never bothered to ask.

That’s no way to run a campaign, much less a country.


Beaten to the Punch

October 23, 2008

The editors of the New Republic have beaten me to the punch and officially predicted that Sarah Palin will be the Republican presidential nominee in 2012:

Palin is wildly popular with the Republican base, in the same stratosphere as George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan. Normally, I trust the GOP elite’s ability to steer the base toward a more electable nominee. But the party elites seem almost as smitten by Palin as the base. Social conservatives, many neoconservatives, and economic conservatives have fallen for Palin. Grover Norquist, who knows the GOP base, said, “Palin draws large crowds and has energized Reagan Republicans, gun owners, women and people of faith. … She is an asset and the most consequential VP candidate in a generation.”

Traditionally, the losing VP nominee is always the front runner for the top spot in the next election, so in that sense, there’s nothing unusual about claiming the same about Palin.  But Palin’s laboring under 2 burdens: top Republican opinion-makers (David Brooks, George Will, etc.) think she’s an insult to the conservative cause, and Democrats and Independents have a very low opinion of her.

To gain the Republican nomination, Democrats and Independents don’t count, so although she might be toxic in a general election, that doesn’t matter for getting the nomination.  Also, these opinion-makers who despise her are literate pundits. The illiterate pundits (radio jocks and Fox news guys) adore her — and they are much more important for saying Republican votes than mere newspaper columnists.

I think her real challenge will be her location — Alaska is very far away, and to prepare for a 2012 run, she’s going to have to spend a lot of time on the hustings, campaigning for other candidates, building a network, and otherwise laying the groundwork for a 2012 race.  She could continue to spend a fair amount of her time away from the state and get away with it (being governor of an oil-rich state is about the easiest governor gig one could get), but she would really have to not run for relection in 2010 in order to campaign full time for 2012.

So if she doesn’t run for reelection, we’ll know she’s going for the brass ring.

One might expect if she wins the nomination, the election itself would be a disaster, and she would bring the Party to ruin. Actually, that makes sense, too.  The last swing of the pendulum was in 1968, when Nixon beat Humphrey.  The Democrats responded (with some help from the Nixon campaign’s dirty tricks) with their most liberal possible candidate, George McGovern.

True believers tend to respond to failure with even truer belief (“McCain didn’t attack enough”).  It’s only after a second abysmal failure do people start questioning their beliefs and looking for alternatives.

Even more reason for Palin in 2012.


McCain in a Box

October 10, 2008

The conventional wisdom about the McCain campaign’s strategy of “turning the page” on the economy and making personal attacks on Obama is that at some point, McCain and his people will see from the polls that the strategy is backfiring and come up with a new strategy.  I think this is wrong.

Remember that McCain’s campaign head is Steve Schmidt, a protege of Karl Rove, who was a protege of Lee Atwater.  For the past 25 years or so, the Republican strategic mantra was “activate the base”.  If the base is motivated, and the Evangelicals (who years ago didn’t use to vote in many elections) turn out, then the Republicans win.  Press whatever hotbutton you have to activate the base — personal attacks on the Democrats, homophobic attacks, veiled (or not so veiled) appeals to racism — it didn’t matter, just push the button and the base will come out and you’ll get your 50.1 percent of the vote.

That’s the idea, it’s worked for them spectacularly — until now.  With an economic crisis, the country traditionally turns to the Democrats, but it’s more than that.  With massive voter registration drives, the Democratic base has grown.  Finally, perhaps in the long term, most importantly, the Republican base has shrunk.  The compact between social conservatives and financial conservatives is fraying all over, and moderate northern Republicans are bleeding away from the Party.

Steve Schmidt and all of his antecedents, only have one card to play, only ever played that one card.  It’s going to take a decade or more for the Republicans to come up with another.


The Stealth Candidate

October 1, 2008

The McCain campaign has decided to put the genie back in the bottle.  From CNN:


SEDONA, Arizona (CNN) – Sarah Palin’s interview Tuesday with conservative talker Hugh Hewitt gave the vice presidential candidate a chance to showcase elements of her life story and demonstrate some of the folksiness that’s been central to her political success.

It’s exactly the kind of interview that voters can expect to see from the governor in the coming weeks, according to a Palin adviser, who recognized that there is hunger in Republican circles and among the public at large to see a less-scripted, more authentic candidate. That means more comfortable settings like conservative talk radio, and fewer opportunities for Palin to stumble, as was the case with a pair of high-profile network interviews with ABC and CBS.


Makes Total Sense

September 29, 2008

William Kristol has been repeatedly criticized for making inaccurate and/or inanane judgements in his column for the NY Times.  I think he’s put these criticisms to rest with today’s article, How McCain Wins. My favorite part:

With respect to his campaign, McCain needs to liberate his running mate from the former Bush aides brought in to handle her — aides who seem to have succeeded in importing to the Palin campaign the trademark defensive crouch of the Bush White House. McCain picked Sarah Palin in part because she’s a talented politician and communicator. He needs to free her to use her political talents and to communicate in her own voice.

I’m told McCain recently expressed unhappiness with his staff’s handling of Palin. On Sunday he dispatched his top aides Steve Schmidt and Rick Davis to join Palin in Philadelphia. They’re supposed to liberate Palin to go on the offensive as a combative conservative in the vice-presidential debate on Thursday.

Another, more deluded commentator might interpret those same circumstances as an “all hands on deck” McCain campaign attempt to save Sara Palin from embarrassment and disgrace at this week’s debate.  Presumably, McCain’s top advisors are squirreled away somewhere, trying to get Palin to repeat sound bites like a dutiful parrot (presumably, with lipstick), so she doesn’t once again appear on TV as an ill-informed bumpkin with a mean streak.

But clearly that deluded commentator is wrong, and instead, we will see a Palin “liberated” — by a group of men.


Will Smith or Willie Horton

September 27, 2008

Many Democrats are beating their breasts about Obama not taking full advantage of McCain, not pummeling him into the ground, just like they would.  But of course, Obama is black.  He can’t do that.

Most white Americans have limited knowledge or experience of black people, and so are likely to fall back into stereotypes.  White people’s current black stereotypes run in pairs.  So we’ve got the black guy who is (amazingly) “just like us”, and we have the ABM (Angry Black Man).  Obama is not sufficiently individualized to many American voters, especially the undecided, “low information” voters, to risk moving from being a nerdy Will Smith to being Willie Horton in a suit.

Obama can only look substantial, be substantial, and try to maintain an epic graciousness in front of an old narcissist who clearly despises him.

More importantly, although there may have been no knockout blow in the debate (a silly idea until the VP debate), Obama did accomplish what he needed to do: show that he has foreign policy chops and is at least the equal of McCain.  Even more importantly, the restraint that is forced on Obama played extremely well against an angry old man.  In fact, Obama’s restraint was the best counter to McCain.

There’s a great blog entry from McCain’s point of view from John Cole:

Look for the appearance of the following words in days to come: cranky, grumpy, crotchety, angry, mean, rude, sneering, snarling, contemptuous, off-putting, snide, boorish, and worst of all, not Presidential. SNL will probably drive the point home in a skit that will become the dominant narrative tonight, and McCain will become boxed in regarding his behavior in the second debate, much as Gore was unable to be as aggressive as he wanted in the second debate (I remember the running joke was that Gore had been medicated for the second debate). And if McCain does not tone down the contempt, it will simply feed the narrative. Or, if we are really lucky, as someone suggested in another thread, McCain will overcompensate and spend the entire time comically and creepily attempting to make eye contact with Obama (think Al Gore walking across the stage to stand next to Bush, and Bush looking at him as if to think “WTF are you doing?”).

This should be terrifying for the McCain campaign for two reasons. First, the base will not understand it. To them, a sneering, contemptuous jerk is a feature, not a bug.

If you’ll recall the anger and smug contempt from the Republican convention, you’ll know that Cole isn’t kidding.