10 February 2008

Guesses and Predictions on the Straight Talk Express

A couple days ago I posted that I don't believe conservatives will stay home this November rather than vote for John McCain. My thinking is that in the end, the worst Republican candidate is still a better choice for president, to the minds of conservative voters, than the best (read "least offensive") Democratic candidate.

Kevin Drum disagrees. Of last night's caucus results Kevin remarks:

Bottom line: this has been a disastrous night for McCain. Sure, he'll win the nomination eventually, but he looks like a goner in the general election. He's either going to be forced to spend so much time pandering to pissed-off conservatives that he loses the independent vote, or else he's going to beg for independents and wake up on November 5th to find out that half his base decided to stay home rather than vote for him.

Not sure what I think about that, but it's well put and Kevin makes the strong point that, one way or another, McCain is going to lose one group of voters to appeal to another. I have to assume that knowing who he will run against will answer the question of which group will be the disenchanted ones.

Warning: Guesswork and extreme oversimplification ahead. Okay. You've been warned.

If he's trying to beat Obama, then I figure McCain doesn't sweat the independent vote. Not sure why, I just have it in mind that independents and undecideds, and maybe a handful of disgruntled Republicans, too, break for the Democrat in that race. (Deep down we are still an idealistic and optimistic nation. Hope, peace, and prosperity have not gone out of fashion.) In which case McCain woos the conservatives, makes all manner of obscene promises, and descends to the grossest levels of pandering, hoping for a wave of political support (big money) from his party to carry him home to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Plus he prays for a stream of really good press. And it will have to be extremely good press, for the simple reason that every time the papers run Obama's good natured smile--or his pensive "foreign policy face"--next to McCain's temperamental and strangely asymmetrical mug, Americans, being the creatures we are, will find ourselves drawn to the more handsome of the two.

Against Hillary Clinton I foresee a different strategy. McCain doesn't sweat the conservative vote, counting on "Billary" to motivate (should I say "provoke"?) the base for him. Instead he relentlessly tries to make the case to independents, undecideds, and anti-Clinton Democrats that he is the moderate stalwart this country needs right now to restore credibility both at home and abroad. And, since the economy will likely still be in a tailspin as he pushes his campaign toward the finish line--and, incidentally, the holiday season--he'll remind taxpayers they'll be forfeiting significantly more money in taxes each year under a President Clinton than a President McCain.*

The tricky part, regardless of who comes away with the Democratic nomination, is that McCain has to run both these campaign strategies simultaneously until the Democratic nominee becomes clear. In this I agree with Kevin completely:
This is a mighty narrow tightrope he's walking, and it looks like he's going to be fighting gale-force crosswinds the whole way.

The way things are going now, it looks to be a very long summer of mixed messages and minced words on the Straight Talk Express.

*I'd love to offer some insight on how McCain situates the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the ongoing War on Terror (which phrase has been dialed down of late in the national colloquy), in his campaign, but this is far too slippery for this amateur political observer.