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.