Tuesday, October 28, 2008

On Mavericks and Moderates

Is John McCain even running for President at this point? Peeking about recent campaign coverage, it would be easy to forget that he is at the top of his party's ticket, and not his folksy sidekick.

Unfortunately for McCain, his candidacy has failed on two fronts: not only has it furthered a split in the Republican Party between its socially conservative rightwing base and its center, but McCain has also failed to energize the moderates, independents, and ‘mavericks’ he needed to win what everyone predicted to be a close election. This failure is likely to expose a rift in the Republican Party that has been a long time coming.

Tim Shipman writes:
The prospect of an electoral rout has unleashed a bitter bout of recriminations both within the McCain campaign and the wider conservative movement, over who is to blame and what should be done to salvage the party's future.

More profoundly, it sparked the first salvoes in a Republican civil war with echoes of Tory infighting during their years in the political wilderness.

One wing believes the party has to emulate David Cameron, by adapting the issues to fight on and the positions they hold, while the other believes that a back to basics approach will reconnect with heartland voters and ensure success. Modernisers fear that would leave Republicans marginalised, like the Tories were during the Iain Duncan Smith years, condemning them to opposition for a decade

At the end of the day, all roads lead to Palin, as Tim points out.
But the real bile has been saved for those conservatives who have balked at the selection of Sarah Palin.

Rush Limbaugh, the doyen of right wing talk radio hosts, denounced Noonan, Brooks and Frum. Neoconservative writer Charles Krauthammer condemned "the rush of wet-fingered conservatives leaping to Barack Obama", while fellow columnist Tony Blankley said that instead of collaborating in heralding Mr Obama's arrival they should be fighting "in a struggle to the political death for the soul of the country.
It isn’t just pundits and wanna-be pundits like myself that have had problems with the McCain campaign post-Palin; the list of ex-Republican ‘maverick’ congressmen and leaders who have thrown their support behind Obama also happens to be extensive and injurious. Considering that McCain is the kind of candidate these types of Republicans would theoretically salivate at the thought of, it’s astonishing to see how poorly McCain has been in pulling in folks like these.

Contrast this with the recent Zogby poll that has Obama pulling in self described moderates 2 to 1 over McCain. Forget the rest of the electorate; McCain failing to pick up the pool of voters most predisposed to support him is damming to his chances at ever seeing the Oval Office from behind the presidential desk. So what can we take away from this?

First, Palin has been a catastrophe for McCain. Anyone who argues differently at this point is either unwilling or unable to see how little confidence she instills in the electorate that, due to McCain’s age, is forced to consider how capable she would be leading the most powerful nation on earth. She is wrong on the issues as far as I am concerned, and unlike individuals like Ronald Regan, she lacks the charisma and capacity to lead anyone outside of her ever shrinking conservative base.

I think it’s also obvious that the Republican Party is headed for a dark period, regulated to being a weak opposition within government as the various factions within the organization battle for control. In my assessment, its already looking bad for the moderate wing, and the lackluster support individuals like myself have given McCain in recent months is unquestionably going to leave a bad taste in the mouths of the party loyal. The religious base will argue that the Party should have never drifted from a godly focus; the libertarians will say that interventionists and big government supporters are what brought the house down. Buchannan and his ilk will doubtlessly just blame the Jews. Lord knows where the Commentary neoconservative types are going to find themselves in this conflict, as they have surely been apologists for Palin and her many shortcomings as of late.

Sadly, the Democratic Party isn’t looking much cozier. Obama may be able to capture numerous moderates next week, but the segment of the Party that put him in power is not going to be exceedingly conciliatory towards the centrists it believes led the Democrats astray and away from its post 60s agenda. Even if Obama himself wants his Presidency to look more like Clinton’s than Carter’s, he will be faced with resistance within his party; a party looking to avoid embroiling their popular mandate in some military campaign like the Bush administration has. Obama may have to enter Pakistan at this point just to demonstrate that he isn’t all talk on the matter, but you better believe that if a humanitarian crisis develops in Africa that requires military aid, he won’t be sending it. Such an action would be too dangerous for his party’s immediate political interests.

Daniel Stark has a worthy rebuttal of this piece here, in which he writes:
“I still stand by my view that experience at the top of the ticket matters more than the bottom of the ticket and that whoever is elected will reflect that in their presidency. There seems to be a fixation with death nowadays, on both candidates (with McCain as a walking corpse and Obama going out as a political martyr). It’s a reality that you need to look at, yet I don’t buy it. Definitely in the case against the McCain-Palin ticket. There is no heartbeat away with Obama, there is Obama right away.”

Update 2:
Robert Stacey McCain writes for the American Spectator:
John McCain might have made dozens of mistakes in this campaign, but picking Sarah Palin was not one of them. If you don't like it, just go to a Palin rally and tell that to the people -- they'll tell you where to go from there.”

Folks like Robert will hold to the belief that Palin has the ability to lead the Republican Party to some new golden age, but he would be wrong, and a majority of Americans won’t be interested in the direction she wants to take it.

Update 3:
The New Centrist has posted on this subject as well.


TNC said...

You write:

"Lord knows where the Commentary neoconservative types are going to find themselves in this conflict, as they have surely been apologists for Palin and her many shortcomings as of late."

While identified as "neocon", Commentary has had a social conservative orientation for quite a while. Look at the tone of the articles towards Reform Judaism to say nothing of intermarriage to see what I mean.

This month's issue carries advertisements from two organizations, "The Jewish Pro-Life Foundation" and "Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH)" which sound like the sorts of organizations evangelicals have been promoting for decades.

As I've mentioned before, I think the majority in the Republican party will blame McCain's problems on his centrism. They will call for candidates who take hard-line socially conservative positions. Unfortunately, I do not see a moderating influence in the party the way Blue Dog Democrats keep the Democrats from being dominated by the liberal wing. Most of the moderate/centrist/liberal Republicans have been driven out of national office. They have some success at the local level (Giuliani in NYC) and state level (Arnold in Cali.) but would never win the hearts and minds of Republicans on a national level.

jams o donnell said...

Okay there is still a week to go and if I were a Democrat I would hold fire on the triumphalism until the votes are counted. That said Obama looks set to do to the GOP in08 what Blair did to the tories in 07... which is pretty well what you said anyway!

Roland Dodds said...

Good Point TNC. Since I often skip over some of the more religious pieces in Commentary, I do forget that the magazine still has a focus in that area. Since I am a daily Contentions reader, I have been disappointed in watching many commentators that I respect come out claiming Palin is full of promise and the future of the party. I have a hard time believing this group will come down on the religious conservative side of a Republican civil war, but who knows.

And I also think you are right as to how many Republicans will view McCain’s defeat. The Republican Party is going to lose, and lose big next week. The party had best get used to being an opposition, but it is completely up to them as to how long they expect to be there. The Repubs can change direction and retool for the next election cycle, or they can drift into Christian right wing conservatism and be lost for decades.

Daniel Stark said...

I responded and expanded on my blog. Too big to re-post it here. It's fair to say that I disagree with you some, heh. The discussion grows...

Roland Dodds said...

Daniel, I always appreciate rebuttals!

You are right about McCain being ready on day one and Obama arguably not. I still think it’s one of McCain’s strongest arguments. And while it may be unfair to consider McCain’s age, I do think that things being as they are, he needed to have a VP candidate that put people at ease when they considered having that person as their leader. Even putting the experience angle aside, I could excuse her lack of familiarity with national politics if I thought she was intellectual and inquisitive in nature, and I sadly don’t.

McCain may have had few good choices. You pick Lieberman, you miss off conservatives. You pick Palin, you piss off moderates. You pick Pawlenty, and people wonder “who the fuck is Pawlenty?” This is a tough year for Republicans, and I do think McCain is the only candidate running from his party that could have won. With the economic crisis, a good argument can be made that McCain simply couldn’t reverse the perception people have of the last 8 yeas. But I also don’t want to excuse him or the Republican Party from major missteps they have made, so I won’t say that it was solely the economy that has done McCain in.

Palin may have shored up some conservative support, but I don’t think she pulls McCain enough votes to justify her being on the ticket, and her divisiveness is going to further split the party especially now that McCain advisers are coming out calling her “a whack job.” It may be necessary to work with or pander to religious conservatives to win elections, but I also don’t want them leading the party, and handing Palin the VP has empowered them.

Daniel Stark said...

I really think Sarah Palin isn't as bad as she is made out to be and most of the problems that people latch to her are exaggerated. That doesn't mean I would support a Palin-Somebody ticket in 2012, because the focus of the administration would change. It would also matter on the opposing candidate. So no, I don't see her as a transforming figure or a future leader representing me, I see her as serving as a vice president would (who by the way, usually are different from their top ticket bearers; Nixon wasn't Eisenhower, Johnson wasn't JFK, George H.W. Bush wasn't Reagan).

If there is a civil war in the Republican Party after this election (which I doubt, though it is entirely plausible), I will also be left in the wilderness (i.e. with no national political party, the Minnesota independence party looks pretty attractive to me). If it does occur, it wasn't Palin that caused it, for signs were already seen within in the Republican primary.

In 2007, I decided that I was going to vote for McCain. If Romney won, or Huckabee, I probably would be sitting this election cycle out (I'll throw out the word "maybe"). Voting Republican brings along certain baggage, i.e. the third leg of the Republican party, the social conservatives (with the others being defense hawks and fiscal conservatives). On social issues, I consider myself center-left. Yet in many cases, I show an extreme amount of apathy on social issues, allowing me to like characters such as Bobby Jindal. If social issues is their main focus and platform however, I'm pushed away (not to the lengths a Hitchens or Sullivan would).

We'll see what happens.

New political party names...

The Modern Party?

American Centrists?

Neo-Etc? Heh.

I like that last one.

tnc said...

I agree with Daniel about Palin. Was she the best pick? I don't think so. But I don't view her as some sort of crazed creationist nut-job the way many of my secularist friends do.

As a VP pick, I don't think she is any worse than Dan Quayle. He wasn't the sharpest tool in the shed and she has more appeal with working-class Republicans than he ever did. Come to think of it, I don't think Quayle appealed to many Republicans at all. They didn't hate him (as many do with McCain) but he was so boring. At least Palin gets some people fired up. And when the MSM and others continue to rail against her, it only makes her that much more attractive for many conservatives.

tnc said...

linked and added comments to both of your posts here:


cokey mccokerson said...

"tnc said...
But I don't view her as some sort of crazed creationist nut-job the way many of my secularist friends do."

I don't find her to be a creationist nut-job because I'm a secularist, I find her to be a creationist nut-job because I'm a scientist and her views and statements on science paint her in that light.

"daniel stark said...
I really think Sarah Palin isn't as bad as she is made out to be and most of the problems that people latch to her are exaggerated."

People have latched on to the things she's actually said though, and things she's repeated ad infinitum, not some stumbled one liners or one off remarks. I'll give her points for sticking to some terrible talking points that the McCain campaign gave her (all the foreign policy bullplop with Russia), but she's done a fine job making herself out to look like all that's wrong with a large portion of the Republican base.