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« American Forces Kill Civilians in Pakistan | Main | The Daily Show: Karl Rove is Divided on the Experience Question (& Other Inconsistent Rules for Dems and for Them) »

September 04, 2008

Comments

Adam

Deb, I agree with you on the following two points:

1) The Dems may well struggle to get things done with 55-57 Senators, as Lieberman/Snowe/Specter/Lugar/Collins*/Smith* won't be willing to break every filibuster. If so, Obama will have a hard time pushing through many of his policies. 2010 could bring some more reinforcements, though, as it will finish up the 6-year correction from the 2004 election.

* If they don't lose their elections, that is - but they are both favored to win.

2) Many Republicans have essentially written off the 2008 election and are talking themselves into a comeback beginning in 2012.

--

But on your argument, "John McCain's strategies over the last few months have all the markings of someone intent on losing", I strongly disagree. I'm going to try to avoid making a novel out of this, but basically, I think you vastly underestimate the obstacles McCain has faced in running this campaign. As briefly as I can manage:

- McCain won the Republican nomination largely by default. Of the other major candidates, only Huckabee was liked by the social conservatives, but he was a very weak candidate in other ways.

- McCain's strongest suit, and the argument that won him the primaries, was his hawkish foreign policy. This set of policies has been less than useless for him in the general election, to the point that he is prematurely declaring "victory" in Iraq in order to avoid discussing it (as I detailed in my "shrinking path to victory in Iraq" post). As such, he has very little policy to run on.

- McCain is deeply distrusted by the social conservative wing of the party, as well as by the anti-immigration folks (which is a large chunk of the party as well). He has had to shore up conservative credentials precisely because the conservatives distrust him so much. Moreover, running back to the center would have led to a series of triple-flipflops on major issues that would have been very hard to explain away. His desire to name Lieberman the VP, a last-ditch effort to claim the center by proxy, was blocked by his own campaign staffers and reportedly would have sparked a floor fight.

McCain has basically been reduced to running GWB's 2004 campaign, but with a relatively smaller Republican base to work with and with an opponent who is harder to define than Kerry due to the strength of his personality. The hope at this point lies in tearing down Obama by any means necessary. It's only going to get uglier from here - expect open lie after open lie.

If McCain loses, we will be able to speculate as to whether the maverick McCain would have had a chance, but my guess is that the maverick McCain's campaign would be a shambles now too, just a very different sort of shambles.

Look at it this way:

2000: Bush is loved by the conservative base, so he was free to run the "uniter, not a divider" campaign and paint himself as similar to Gore on many issues. The base was voting for him either way.

2004: The moderate image wasn't going to fly this time. But Bush, and Republicans in general, were popular enough that Bush could win by rallying and appealing to the base, which was what they did.

2008: McCain needs to appeal to the base in order to get their votes, but he can't win with the base alone. Either way, he's screwed.

In retrospect, the best option for the Republicans would have been someone like Chuck Hagel - a bonafide social and economic conservative who could claim maverick-ness on the basis of foreign policy/civil liberty issues. He would have the support of the base, and could have picked a moderate female Republican VP like Huchison or Snowe or Colins or Jodi Redell. THAT would have been a tough ticket for Obama to beat, particularly since the negative campaigning would have been stacked on top of it.

Charles

Madrid is a nice place to lose one's mind. :-)

Adam, the Democrats can hold local pork (and other congressional perks) hostage as an inducement to good behavior. Or hold hearings embarrassing to the minority. They could be doing these things this session, but they are acting noble or whatever. This excuse that you need 60 votes to get anything done in the Senate is laughable. If/as/when Dems control three branches of government, they will have enormous leverage. If they struggle to pass Obama's bills, it will only be because Senate Dems have decided to hold Obama hostage rather than save the Republic or any of the other good things they might do.

Deb, they aren't trying to lose. McCain had to make a deal with the devil to have a chance of winning. He may indeed win. The press belongs to the corporate libertarian wing of the GOP and doesn't like the religious right. The religious right has done all the hard work to elect Republicans and been denied their desires (like banning abortion and gay marriage). They don't especially like the corporate libertarians.

Ever since Reagan, the Republican Party has been a case of schizophrenia waiting for a crack up. The only reason they haven't is that large amounts of money have smoothed things over.

Deb Cupples

Hi Adam,

You mention the "conservative base" as though it's ONE category of voters. Charles put it perfectly when saying that the GOP has schizophrenia (think Sybil).

I see the "conservatives" as having AT LEAST 4 factions with very different (sometimes clashing) interests and perspectives:

1) Hyper-wealthy individuals/big corporate interests (a relatively small number of voters).

2) Religious zealots (whom, I suspect, is as much a minority as they were in teh '80s -- when mislabeled the "Moral Majority").

3) Blue-collar folks who actually believe Limbaugh and Fox (some overlap with #2).

4) Moderate Repubs.

Bush has lost significant support from those in #4, #3 -- even some in #1. He likely kept the religious folks, but again I think they’ve always been a minority – just a very LOUD one.

If the religious folks were so numerous, I suspect that Huck would have been the nominee. If the Limbaugh/Fox set were so numerous, I suspect that Giuliani or Thompson would have been the nominee.

I don't understand why you say that McCain won the nomination "by default." I think a huge number of moderates (and maybe some wealthy/corporate types) helped him win.

I DON'T think hawkish foreign policy was THE key to his winning over moderates (or Independents who voted in open primaries), because a lot of them don't like the war (esp. real and sensible fiscal conservatives, who see how much it has cost).

That and middle-class Rs (the suburban set) likely would oppose a hawkish Repub, because they don’t want to see their kids go off to war via a draft (which would be likely under any hawkish president -- even Biden publicly refrained from opposing a draft).

Incidentally, I think Lieberman is right-winger, not a centrist.

I also don't think Bush "won" in 2004 because of popularity.

Among other things, those voting machines in Ohio were screwy – which is underscored by the disappearance of 80% of that state’s ballots despite a federal judge’s ordering their preservation back in 2006.

Ohio wasn't the only state with major voting-machine woes.

Furthermore, I think that the "conservative base" has changed since 2004. For one thing, that election was pre-Katrina -- i.e., before it became allowed (and eventually habitual) for the media AND politicians (like Kerry) to attack Bush.

Bush's numbers have declined ever since Katrina – even among Repubs (not a majority, but more than 1/3 if job approval stats are accurate).

That's one reason I think it was a mistake for McCain to play Mini-Me to Bush.

Obviously, I disagree with your speculation that McCain's campaign would be coming apart now if he'd tried to appeal to moderates, Independents, and even some Dems after the primaries.

I suspect that moderate repubs, Indies, and upset Hillary supporters outnumber the religious folks and Limbaugh fans.

IF that's the case, McCain could have inspired the latter two groups to stay home WHILE drawing away from Obama some MRs, INDs, and upset Hillary supporters (some of whom are now voting for Obama ONLY because McCain looks so Bush-like).

Obviously, I can't prove my speculations, anymore than you can prove yours.

I DO think you're right that Hagel would have been better for the GOP. But apparently, Hagel didn't want to run.

Deb Cupples

Charles,

I agree about the GOP's schizophrenia.

But I'm not convinced that Dems really will get things done without 60 in the Senate. Rs aren't above cutting off their own noses. While Dems are refusing to give pork to Rs if they keep 41 seats, Rs could simultaneously hold the Dems' own pork hostage (via filibustering).

I mean, this is a party of politicians who once shut down our government.

Also, I'm NOT saying you're wrong. Maybe the Rs really DO want to win. I'm just not yet convinced of that.

I think of the real GOP powers-that-be as the Heritage and Cato billionaires (guys like Scaife).

And I doubt that such people give a damn about the interests of individual politicians -- whom they see as pawns in the wealth-preservation game.

Charles

If this is a Democratic year, Deb, watch for a wave of Republican resignations.

Deb Cupples

Charles,

Please explain what you mean by "a wave of Republican resignations."

Adam

Charles, I agree that 60 votes is not an absolute necessity. Lord knows the Republicans got plenty passed without it before 2006. But without a Democratic president, the current Senate legitimately need 67, and that is a bridge too far.

Deb, I think the 4 factions you refer to are a bit of an overclassification. You basically have the two wings of the hardcore Republicans - corporate conservatives (I hesitate to use "libertarian" like Charles did because they don't generally care about civil liberties) and religious conservatives. There's plenty of overlap between the two wings - trying to hold these two sides together is the basic focus of the Republican party coalition. GWB is popular among the base because he appeals to both sides. And then there's a gradual tailoff from the solid base toward true moderates.

When I said "conservative base" in the first post, I mostly mean the moral/religious conservatives. McCain did have fences to mend with the corporate types too, though, due to his old votes against the tax cuts.

"If the religious folks were so numerous, I suspect that Huck would have been the nominee."

Huck's economic ideas were anathema to much of his party - I often referred to him as a religious conservative New Dealer. This really killed his fundraising capacity. Basically, he never got past his base. Look at his numbers and you basically see the size of the religious conservative base that values those issues above all others. It's a solid third of the party, more in some areas.

"If the Limbaugh/Fox set were so numerous, I suspect that Giuliani or Thompson would have been the nominee."

Not sure why you lump those two together. But basically, Thompson ran one of the most incompetent campaigns in memory. Giuliani isn't just NOT a religious conservative, he's nothing even close to it. Again, there's plenty of overlap between the wings of the Republican base, and a lot of folks who don't absolutely base their vote on moral issues still weren't comfortable with someone so utterly different on those issues.

"I don't understand why you say that McCain won the nomination "by default." I think a huge number of moderates (and maybe some wealthy/corporate types) helped him win."

I say he won by default because there was no strong Republican candidate who could really sell the Republican electorate on the idea that they could win in the fall. (And for good reason.)

Romney was clearly the choice of the corporate conservatives, and Huckabee the choice of the religious conservatives. When the field got whittled down to three, the two of them more or less cancelled each other out, and McCain picked up those who thought Iraq would be the key issue, along with some moderates. The few antiwar folks voting in the Republican primaries (many switched to Democratic primaries in stead) typically moved toward Ron Paul. McCain won just enough of what was left over to capture pluralities in a plurality of Super Tuesday states, which, thanks to Republican winner-take-all, was just enough to skate by and win.

The Republican party was at least as splintered as the Democratic one at the end of the competitive primary process, and from an ideological perspective, much moreso.

"I suspect that moderate repubs, Indies, and upset Hillary supporters outnumber the religious folks and Limbaugh fans."

Electoral politics aren't that simple. First, it's not as though McCain would sweep the independents even if he's willing to give up his base. The best he could ever really hope for was something like a 65-35 split of independents, and maybe 25% of Democrats, and that's in a doomsday no-unity scenario for the Dems. Those would be historically bad Democratic numbers on both fronts, and these are historically good times for Democrats.

"IF that's the case, McCain could have inspired the latter two groups to stay home WHILE drawing away from Obama some MRs, INDs, and upset Hillary supporters (some of whom are now voting for Obama ONLY because McCain looks so Bush-like)."

That's, numerically, a losing strategy. You're disaffecting 20% of the electorate to make a play at an extra 15% in the middle. Because, again, the sweep of the centrist voters is impossible, while sweeping the Republican base is entirely possible.

Moreover, in all honesty, he probably would not have been nominated if he had shifted positions on things like abortion and health care. Plus the pandering nature of such blatant changes of position would probably turn off a lot of independents.

The only way a Republican (or a Democrat, for that matter) can make a play for the center is if it doesn't significantly erode electoral support in the base. That was GWB's secret in 2000, and it's arguably what secured such a big margin for Bill Clinton in 1996.

"those voting machines in Ohio were screwy"

While the 2004 Ohio election may have been stolen, the fact remains that Bush's approval numbers were quite good, and that he won a comfortable majority of the nationwide popular vote even if we account for some misdeeds on the margins. My central point was that Bush was in a position to run a "rally the base" campaign, and this is precisely what he did. At no point during the fall of 2004 did that strategy look particularly hopeless, the way it does for McCain right now.

"Incidentally, I think Lieberman is right-winger, not a centrist."

I've got no love for Lieberman, but let's see him for what he is. He's a social and economic liberal - for expanded healthcare, for abortion rights, and so on. Meanwhile, he's a foreign policy hawk and anti-civil libertarian.

Does that make him right wing? If your answer is yes, then how do you classify Chuck Hagel, whose opinions on everything I listed above are the exact opposite? Clearly he's not LEFT wing. They both reveal the absurdity of trying to classify all politicians on a linear spectrum.

My point wasn't really to classify Lieberman as a centrist. I simply meant that picking Liberman as a VP would have be seen as a play for the center, and in SOME ways (albeit not others) it really would be.

Deb Cupples

Hi Adam,

I simply disagree with you about there being only 2 big GOP factions. And when you mentioned it in your prior comment, you referred to only one: the "conservative base."

The Wall Streeters, incidentally, wouldn't abandon McCain over abortion (many of them have probably caused or paid for abortions). The religious folks likely would've abandoned McCain over abortion.

Given that you and I agree that rabidly religious folks are somewhere around 20%, I don't know how they can even be called a "base."

I also don't think that you can validly apply "conventional wisdom" from 2004 to today.

That election was before Hurricane Katrina, before the Democrats sort-of had Congress (and started launching public investigations of Bush), before the Iraq war had gone on for 5 years, and before the public had an extra 3+ years of suffering the consequences of the Bush Administration.

In short, I think the electorate's perception of Bush and Republicans has changed a lot since 2004 -- and since 2000, for that matter.

You said: "Electoral politics aren't that simple. First, it's not as though McCain would sweep the independents even if he's willing to give up his base. The best he could ever really hope for was something like a 65-35 split of independents, and maybe 25% of Democrats, and that's in a doomsday no-unity scenario for the Dems."

That's pure speculation, and the numbers were generated in your head.

I still think that if McCain had EARLIER played Moderate Maverick, he would have had a good shot at attracting masses of indies, moderate repubs, and ultimately a sizable chunk of Hillary supporters.

Now, it likely is too late for him to take a different stance, but it wasn't too late a few months ago.

You Said: "You're disaffecting 20% of the electorate to make a play at an extra 15% in the middle. "

I agree that the religious folks are somewhere around 20%, but you're pulling the 15% out of the air.

I think the people in the "middle" (i.e., indies, moderate Rs and moderate Ds) comprise far more than 15% of the electorate.

My whole point is if McCain had taken the religious folks out of play for himself and Obama (they'd NEVER vote for Obama), he would have gained a lot of votes from indies and moderate repubs -- while being less offensive to upset Hillary supporters.

Again, I am speculating -- and so are you. We're just doing it differently.

Incidentally, I don't think that the reversals or flip-flopping a few months ago would have hurt McCain. Obama's major reversals didn't seem to hurt him much.

I think it goes back to the idea that most voters didn't start paying much attention to the races until the conventions. I'm NOT talking about bloggers and wonks.

Whether or not McCain actually is a moderate or maverick, MOST (non-blogging) people saw him that way for years (oil drilling, torture, campaign finance, Bush's tax cuts, Abramoff...) -- UNTIL he started pandering to the religious and big-corporate folks and until he started playing Mini-me to Bush.

The Bush tie is a killer, even among many R voters.

"While the 2004 Ohio election may have been stolen, the fact remains that Bush's approval numbers were quite good, and that he won a comfortable majority of the nationwide popular vote even if we account for some misdeeds on the margins. "

First, this comment makes NO SENSE whatsoever. If the election was "stolen," how can you say that GWB won a comfortable majority of the nation's popular vote?

Remember, Ohio wasn't the only state that went Republican AND had massive problems with paperless voting.

If there was tampering in a few big states, then we don't really know who won the nationwide popular vote or by what margin.

Another thing: Bush's approval ratings were largely in the 40s during Fall 2004. That's better than now, but it wasn't good.

Lieberman is an economic liberal? The guy who's been totally in bed with the insurance industry (which might account for any "interest" in health care he's shown)? The guy who sought to disband FASB?

No. Lieberman is very much a good friend to the hyper-wealthy and big corporate types -- even if he is pro-choice.

Frankly, I did NOT and would not try to classify Chuck Hagel (or Arlen Specter, for that matter) -- because I agree with you about the absurdity of trying to use broad labels.

Adam

Really quickly:

- I agree, of course, that the middle is more than 15% of the electorate. But he's already getting close to half (say, 40%), and getting more than 75% would be historically high. So, by saying he'd be making a play at 15%, I'm implying that the middle is no more than half the electorate. Which is reasonable, I think.

- More broadly, our debate about reasonable strategies suggests that reasonable minds can disagree about what McCain's best play was here. As such, supposing that he's not trying to win (as oppose to simply choosing a different strategy than you would) seems unnecessary.

- Lastly, my line from my first comment on this post, "...The hope at this point lies in tearing down Obama by any means necessary. It's only going to get uglier from here - expect open lie after open lie.", seems prescient in the wake of the "Obama wants to talk to your baby about sex" commercial. This is not the strategy of someone looking to lose with honor.

Moreover... well. Actually I'll save the last comment for a quick post tomorrow.

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