Archive for ‘pre-mortem’

October 3, 2008

Campaign Pre-Mortem, Part I

Yesterday, when the news hit that Team Maverick was pulling out of Michigan, I did not hesitate to state the only possible meaning of this news: Game over. Obama wins on Nov. 4.

If you’ve got any InTrade futures on McCain (now trading at 34%), sell them immediately for whatever you can get, because they’re not worth a nickel.

As drastic and premature as that conclusion may seem, it is defensible, if you have carefully followed the course of this campaign. This is not “panic” or “quaking in your panties,” as the commenter Nermous said and, contrary to what one Kossack commenter suggested — yes, I got cited at DKos — this is not: “When things get tough, they begin to eat their own.”

However colorfully vituperative my language might be, I am trying to report an objective fact. When it becomes clearly obvious to me that a candidate has lost an election, and I see the possibility of being the first to report this fact — a scoop! an exclusive! — I’m not going to keep my mouth shut just because the guy has an “R” beside his name. (Which, through a fantastic genealogical coincidence, just happens to be my name, too.)

Now, let me run down the basic reasoning:
  • This year’s map always favored the Democrats — Whoever got the nomination for the Democrats had a built-in advantage over whoever got the GOP nomination. “Brand damage” for Republican Party since 2004 is very real, and by late 2007 “brand damage” had put into play several states that Bush carried against Kerry. Count the Electoral College votes. If the Democrats could hold all of Kerry’s states and add Iowa (7), Colorado (9), Nevada (5) and New Mexico (5), that’s 276-262 in the Electoral College. Obama’s overwhelming popularity in Iowa gave the GOP even less room for error. Even if you ignored every other possible Dem pickup this year (e.g., Ohio, Florida, Virginia), it was imperative that the GOP go on offense and try to “flip” some of the Kerry states from 2004 — New Hampshire (4), Maine (4), Minnesota (10), Wisconsin (10), Pennsylvania (21) and Michigan (17) being the best prospects.
  • Michigan was McCain’s best “flip” prospect — Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm pushed through an unpopular tax increase last year, and the high-profile corruption case of Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick (an Obama ally) created a potential “perfect storm” scenario in Michigan. Yet less than a month after Kilpatrick pleaded guilty — and just three weeks after a one poll showing McCain +1 in Michigan, and two weeks after another poll showed him +3 there — the McCain campaign’s pulling out. Hello? This signals a huge, sudden momentum shift, and it won’t be limited to Michigan. You can confidently paint Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Wisconsin blue, too.
  • Timing of the shift — The poll swings before Labor Day were relatively inconsequential. Independent voters seldom pay attention to politics before September. This was why the McCain poll surge after the Palin VP pick created such a panic among Democrats. But the subsequent GOP poll collapse (which, in retrospect, began Sept. 12) was more significant. As I wrote Sept. 22, the momentum might shift back to McCain if Obama bombed Sept. 26 in the first debate. But let’s face it: McCain sucked in that debate. So now, with barely a month to go in the campaign, the independents have shifted to Obama. Let Sean Hannity spin a fantasy of how McCain is going to reverse that shift this late in the game. I can’t see it happening.
  • Media bashing — I didn’t comment on it at the time, but I was shocked when Steve Schmidt lashed out at the New York Times on Sept. 22. Every word Schmidt said about the NYT being in the tank for Obama was true. But you don’t do that. Ever. Not in a campaign you have any hope of winning. It is one thing to criticize specific errors by specific reporters, but for a presidential campaign manager to call into question the fundamental integrity of a newspaper that more or less dictates news coverage at the three major broadcast networks? Uh uh. No way. Leave that work to surrogates. Then Wednesday, in an interview with the Associated Press, McCain himself got all hostile with the reporter. That is tantamount to an admission of defeat.
  • The bailout stunt — John McCain might as well have changed his slogan last week to “Got Desperation?” Suspending his campaign and attempting to cancel the first debate so he could fly to Washington and grandstand in support of a measure that polls showed a majority of voters opposed? That’s just crazy.
Look, I consider the bailout to be a travesty, but even if you believe the bailout is The Right Thing To Do, it’s just bad politics to jump in on the unpopular side of a controversial issue six weeks before an election, especially in such a flamboyant manner as McCain did last week.

The First Law of Politics is, You Can’t Govern, If You Don’t Win. Winning elections may not be the only thing that matters in politics, but it’s the most important thing in politics — and it’s sure a lot more important than whatever the second most important thing is.

This is why those who’ve accused me of panic or cannibalism are wrong. I’m watching political incompetence in action, and incompetence infuriates me. Good policy is good politics, and vice-versa. Yet here we see the once-mighty Republican Party en route to its second consecutive electoral embarrassment, with an incumbent GOP president and his would-be GOP successor both on the wrong side (i.e., the losing side) of major issues.

Just as with the shamnesty, so also with the bailout: Republican leaders trying to ram through measures that are opposed by an absolute majority of the voters, and more opposed by Republican voters than by Democrats. And the same rationale to explain failure in both cases: “You benighted know-nothing voters are being misled by demagogues. We know what’s best for you, so shut up.”

“Leadership,” according to the 21st-century Beltway GOP elite, requires the negation of representative government. They believe in a government above the people, against the people, in spite of the people. And then they wonder why they’re losing elections!

For me to be silent about the impending disaster and its causes would be an act of bad faith. On Nov. 5, somebody’s going to have to explain this botched campaign, and if we leave that job to the liberal media or the Republicans who were personally in charge of the disaster, you can be sure we’ll get the wrong explanation.

So I’m now on record with the first installment of what I believe to be the first pre-mortem of the McCain campaign. If my prognosis is mistaken, and somehow Maverick pulls the greatest comeback in modern political history, well, OK. But if I were you, I’d dump those InTrade shares for whatever any fool is willing to pay for them, because they’re going to be worthless pretty soon.