Why McCain Lost
John McCain, a genuine American war hero with a long, moderate-to-conservative voting record, has just been trounced by the callowest, least-accomplished, most far-left candidate in modern history. It is important to understand how we got here.
The first thing that needs to be said is this: John McCain is really a Reagan Democrat. He joined the Republican Party in Arizona years ago because people like him (patriotic, military background, self-consciously anti-Communist) had no future in the Democratic Party, and he remained a Republican since then, but anyone who watches his demeanor and speeches cannot avoid the conclusion that this is a man much more comfortable with traditional lunch-bucket arguments and policies than the generally more abstract, data-based analyses favored by Republicans.
Conservatives must understand McCain's candidacy in its full context: McCain's nomination represented the joint successes of two independent and mutually hostile projects -- the Media/Political Left's project, and McCain's own.
McCain represented a shrewd strategic choice by the leftist "hive"-he nearly won the nomination in 2000, when he had half as many GOP votes in the GOP primaries as Bush did. That near-death experience should have been a wakeup call to our slumbering "state party activists" to vaccinate their parties against any future Democrat pollution/manipulation. But, unfathomably, they stayed in their comas, and, sure enough, in 2008 the GOP primary candidate who got the 2d most GOP votes became the GOP candidate. He repeatedly positioned himself as "the anti-Republican Republican." And now we wonder why he had trouble making Republican arguments while running as a Republican?
McCain's own project planned to draw massive numbers of "moderate" Democrats and independents over to the Republican side. He had been calculating and executing this strategy since at least as far back as the early 1990s (when he and John Kerry were allies in normalizing relations with Vietnam). McCain's uber-rationale was this: America wanted a moderate leader who would seek out support from the other side, a task which in theory should have been made much easier if the Democrats nominated a far-left candidate.
Sure enough, the Democrats did. Unfortunately, the far-left candidate had two unusual, (but by March 2008 easily foreseeable) advantages: he had no recognizable voting record in higher office to hang around his neck to define him; and he had a gigantic money advantage (well over 2-1) with which to savage McCain and glorify himself. This was a completely unprecedented situation, since by definition newcomers are generally unable to drum up the funds to compete with entrenched powerful pols. Obama in fact outspent McCain by a ratio heretofore reserved for shoo-in incumbent Presidents over mismatched challengers.
With these advantages, Obama was able to attack McCain's strategy directly, by in fact making McCain out to be the "risky," even "ideological" choice versus the reasonable, moderate, bi-partisan Obama. Result: McCain was unable to get independents or centrist Democrats not named Lieberman to support him (or at least get them known!) And, quite foreseeably, the media hive has been bursting with stories about "lifelong Republicans who are planning to vote for Obama."
Speaking of the hive, it needs to be said the 2008 election actually saw the culmination of two of their long-term projects, with McCain's nomination being the first. To a lot of media/political types, the Clintons represented a heart-breaking concession to evil capitalism. The Clintons gladly partnered with big business, and almost never manifested the type of red-meat soak-the-rich attitude that had energized the Democrat left for decades. Not only did the Clintons win twice, but they explicitly, smugly, repeatedly lectured the Left that that was the only way Democrats could possibly win. The Left hates, hates, HATES being told that undiluted Leftism is a political loser. Therefore, their second project was to ensure the nomination of a genuine leftist for the Democrats.
History will show that Hillary Clinton was an eminently suitable candidate for the Left, but through a combination of shrewd analysis and execution by Obama's campaign and frankly astounding incompetence, over-confidence and lack of discipline by her own, all topped off by some mischievous and fickle big-money Hollywood backstabbing, the Hillary candidacy finished as nothing more than high-priced roadkill: the most inevitable nomination in modern times was aborted, and the far-left was energized in a way not seen since LBJ withdrew in 1968.
With both the media/political hive projects of 2008 successfully completed, the media/left effectively held a "checkmate" position since March -- no matter what happened, they would get their way in November. Of course, they would do everything to make sure their true choice was elected, but even a docile McCain "who knew his place" and would sign off on Democrat legislation would be acceptable to them. This understanding was what had conservatives so dispirited until August 29.
Enter Sarah Palin. The Palin choice represented an unthinkable occurrence to the hive: McCain had forgotten who his benefactors were, and was instead listening to Republicans. The energizing of the right and the demonizing by the now-wounded hive were almost physically equal-and-opposite effects. The Palin choice restored a strategic parity to the campaign, wherein McCain had a strong, viable shot at repeating Bush's previous electoral wins, and appeared to even open up a few Dem-leaning states such as Pennsylvania and New Hampshire.
But McCain the Reagan Democrat zoned out and failed a critical test a few weeks later. What was he thinking when he declared on September 15 when he declared the US economy "fundamentally strong"? What was he thinking when he announced on September 24 he was suspending his campaign, including the upcoming September 26 debate appearance, after the financial crisis broke? Did he think the majority democrats would cave in and make him a conquering hero? Did he think it was a one-day crisis that would blow over, and make him look as if he had worked some magic on it? Indeed, as the Obama ads relentlessly drilled, he appeared confused, erratic, and out of touch -- his big moment of crisis in the middle of the campaign, and he blew it. He choked. And everyone forgot about Obama's horrendous response to Russia's Georgia invasion just a month earlier.
At that point, McCain had a month to restore his campaign, but being avalanched by paid Obama ads and the unpaid hive ads (remember the 2004 comment by Newsweek's Evan Thomas that the liberal media support is "worth maybe 15 points" in the polls), he would need to do it the unfamiliar way -- he'd need to argue for it, using information and persuasion, and punchy confrontations in the remaining debates. So how did he use those weeks?
- 3 debates, 4.5 hours on national TV face-to-face with Obama, McCain never mentioned Obama's "bitter clingers" comment
- 3 debates, 4.5 hours on national TV face-to-face with Obama, never cited the Clinton campaign's many tough arguments against Obama -- he could have just quoted Hillary!
That was McCain's (and our) downfall: You can't bring moderation to an ideology fight. An honorable, sincere moderate who is behind really hasn't a chance against a cynical ideologue who is ahead. Obama simply dissembled at the debates, while McCain's tongue-tied references to Ayers, ACORN, Khalidi, "most liberal senator," etc., sounded unfairly abrupt, even desperate. Maybe they were? To the bitter end, McCain refrained from "bringing Jeremiah Wright into the campaign," even though Hillary had...Why not?
It wouldn't have looked moderate enough.
So here we are, on the verge of the greatest accomplishment by the American Left since...Well, maybe ever. To them, the Clintons represented the Menshevik phase, while Obama represents the seizure of power by the Bolsheviks. So, to quote the original Bolshevik himself, what is to be done?
First, the Republican Party needs to relentlessly reform its state electoral rules to ensure that those voters choosing the Republican candidate are genuine Republicans who have the best interests of the Republican Party at heart. This self-evident corrective of course should have been completed by early 2001. It wasn't, so here we are, with a self-admittedly weak-on-economics candidate trying to talk his way through a financial meltdown. It has been pathetic.
Second, we as voters and activists need to re-examine the emphasis we place -- or don't place -- on communication skills. Conservatives need to rediscover the importance of communication and argument in our representatives. It is important to note that the only Republican in recent history who received any compliment from the media hive was Ronald Reagan, who they labeled "The Great Communicator." This was of course an apparent put-down, since they were writing off Reagan's successes as the result only of his hypnotic, inscrutable speeches. But that non-compliment-compliment was the hive's acknowledgment that Reagan had been effective against them.
Going back to Bush 41 in 1988, the Republican's have nominated a string of candidates who have been at best "poor" in communications. As the 1960's Left demographic takes its seats in the highest offices of the media, academia, entertainment, arts, "public policy" think tanks, polling organizations, even business and finance, we have to assume that every one of our initiatives will be maligned, marginalized and targeted for oblivion, while the most crackpot schemes of the Left will be given respectful and favorable commentary. In this environment, we simply cannot afford any more tongue-tied leaders who are unable to argue their way out of a paper bag.
The author blogs at jewishodysseus.blogspot.com.