…the Palin pick: yes, the Barracuda helped in the short-term and yes gave the base reasons to believe, but she also undermined the central thrust of McCain’s candidacy in terms of how the GOP was trying to frame the debate: experience, wisdom, judgement and reform vs callow inexperience.
Equally, “constructing” a “narrative” of Obama as a “lightweight celebrity” was a strategy that depended upon Obama showing himself to be nothing more than a lightweight celebrity candidate. But what if he showed more than that? What would the McCain campaign do then? In other words, McCain’s strategy depended upon Obama failing, not McCain succeeding. As such it was vulnerable. Indeed, it was predicated upon an analysis that was not the GOP’s to control.
Then again, this was rather the strategy that had worked for McCain in the primaries. McCain did not so much provide a reason for voting for him – the apparent success of the “surge” notwithstanding – as outlast his opponents. Rather as Booker Prize judges frequently end up choosing everyone’s second or third choice novel, so the GOP turned to McCain once the other candidates – Giuliani, Thompson, Romney – had, one way or another, disqualified themselves.
Once Obama demonstrated at the convention and then in the first two debates that he had the look of a President about him, the McCain campaign’s strategy had little left to offer. It was trying to sell the public a product voters didn’ believe in, spinning the punters a line that was contradicted by their own perceptions. Whereas John Kerry did often come across as a flip-flopping doofus, Obama doesn’t come across as a recklessly inexperienced Hollywood candidate. At the risk of labouring the point, if Obama – still relatively unknown to many voters just a couple of months ago – showed the poise and gravitas voters expect, then the McCain “narrative” was left in tatters.
Alex Massie, October 15
Look, I’ve been following politics since 1968 when I was (believe it or not) a staunch 9-year-old Hubert Humphrey booster. I know a losing campaign when I see one and, having more than a few friends who are political operatives, I know what goes on inside a losing campaign.
The top people inside a losing campaign know the final score long before it becomes apparent to outsiders. Ask anybody who was involved in the Bob Dole ’96 campaign. After Labor Day, they were just going through the motions, playing out the season, collecting a paycheck.
The top folks at Maverick HQ — who in early September were thinking about what their positions might be in the McCain administration’s transition team — are now on Travelocity, booking their Caribbean vacations for the second week in November. They will furiously deny this of course, but the ability to lie through one’s teeth with apparent sincerity is a prerequisite to being a professional political operative.
Do not be deceived, then, by “here’s-how-we-can-win” talk coming from Maverick HQ or the Republican talking heads you see on Fox News. Do not get your hopes up by letting Hugh Hewitt or Sean Hannity draw you into their miracle-comeback fantasy talk. Ain’t gonna happen.
Alas, I am a sucker for miracle-comeback fantasies. So if, at any point in the next 32 days, it should appear that I’m being sucked into an optimism vortex, please remind me of this post, where I append this time-capsule note to my near-future self:
Hey, idiot, get a grip! That latest tiny bump in Maverick’s poll numbers in Ohio and Colorado is a glitch, a statistical anomaly, and is insufficient cause to ignore every previous indicator of the impending Obama landslide. And why the heck should you care, anyway, since you swore a blood oath on Feb. 7 that you were going to vote Libertarian this year? Or did you forget that, too, you moron?
I feel better now. There is peace in pessimism.
Robert Stacy McCain, October 2
My dad kicked off conservatism in 1955, Goldwater ran in 1964, and then Reagan was elected sixteen years after that, so the Republicans could be looking pretty good around, oh, 2032! The smart ones in the movement should get together right after the election at the Greenbrier or the Homestead, you know, where they typically have these kinds of get-togethers, and have a long dark night of the soul. And I’ll tell you what the conference should be called: Conservatism—What the Fuck?