Writing about a “Reverse-Bradley effect“, Kathleen Parker explains in today’s WaPo that many Republicans, who’ve grown disgusted with McCain’s campaign, are secretly planning to vote for Obama instead.
I’ve received too many e-mails and had too many conversations that began, “Just between you and me,” and ended with, “I wouldn’t want anyone at work to know,” to believe that this is an insignificant trend.
Indeed, it’s a definite possibility. I know. I’ve found myself on more than one occasion wondering just what McCain’s offering, what kind of message he’s trying to send with his snap-decisions to suspend his campaign one day and pussyfooting around the financial crisis the next.
I’ve even toyed with the idea, suggested by Will Wallace here, to stay home on election day to punish the Republican party for having chosen McCain as their candidate. But I like to bitch, and unless I cast my vote I don’t see that I’ve got much right to do so. Still, the idea is a tempting one, given the pitiful campaign that John McCain has run after having miraculously been named his party’s nominee.
And by “miraculous”, I mean that: just over four years ago, after scoring the Democratic presidential nomination, John Kerry had one name at the top of his list of prospective running mates: Arizona Senator John McCain. McCain has consistently denied such overtures were made, much less considered.
Yet the rumor’s persistence points to one of the greatest weaknesses in McCain’s bid for the White House: he is too liberal to be a conservative, and too conservative to be a liberal. This, he contends, is part of what makes him a Maverick. Yet his downfall may stem from his inability to craft and convey a message that appeals to either side.
With 26 years of Washington experience, John McCain also has a record that does not sit well with his own party’s primary base. Between his positions on illegal immigration, Roe v. Wade and his opposition to the Bush Administration’s treatment of terrorist detainees, few top conservatives favored him as the nominee.
As a result, John McCain has had to run a campaign in which he’s wooing not only undecided and independent voters, but voters from within the Republican party, too. Yet he appears to be failing in both regards. McCain’s 8 point mid-October poll deficit (which now may be as high as 10 points) has only been overcome by one candidate in the past 50 years: Ronald Reagan. But John McCain is no Ronald Reagan: he lacks the charisma, the personality and, most importantly, the support of the religious right.
For a time, it appeared as if Sarah Palin’s nomination as Vice President would address McCain’s shortcomings. As a Bible-thumping, pro-life Mom in favor of gun ownership, Palin not only appealed to the far right within the Republican party, but to disenfranchised Hillary Clinton supporters as well.
With McCain’s failure to address the issues of concern to many Americans (hint: it’s about the economy, stupid), he’s frittered away the post-convention bump in the polls she delivered. Top conservative pundits, already fleeing the GOP after Palin’s nomination, are now being joined by Florida seniors and blue-collar white women, both previously considered solid voting blocs for McCain.
Meanwhile, McCain’s messy message has failed to appeal to independent and undecided voters. In fact, his dogged insistence on attacking Obama actually played into Democrats hands, providing the Senator from Illinois an opportunity to score with voters as he pointed out what McCain’s own campaign just doesn’t get:
“With the economy in turmoil and the American Dream at risk, the American people don’t want to hear politicians attack each other… You want to hear about how we’re going to attack the challenges facing the middle class each and every day.”
While there are plenty of reasons to attack Obama — his ties to an unrepentant racist, to an unrepentant domestic terrorist, and to unrepentant racketeer and felon come to mind, as does his posturing as a working class stiff when he’s anything but one. Yet the time for those attacks had long since passed. Still, even as voters turned against McCain, his campaign remained in the “attack, attack, attack” mode described by Joe Biden.
Ignoring his slip in the polls like the “Maverick” he claims to be, McCain continues to run those very ads, most recently trotting out — at long last — the “Blind Ambition” ad tying Obama with William Ayers… an ad which nevertheless ignores Obama’s ties to Ayers’ wife, the likely head of the terrorist group The Weather Underground. But that move may have only reinforced McCain’s biggest weakness among independent and undecided voters: his image as a petty, mean-spirited man – a character depiction that has haunted McCain throughout this race.
For all its virulence, McCain’s attack strategy did nothing to take advantage of his post-convention bump, nor has it since done anything to distinguish the candidate from President Bush, whom a majority of Americans — from both parties — blame for the economy’s troubles.
“Either McCain wins the argument over the economy or he loses,” said Newt Gingrich, the former Republican Speaker of the House. “When the economy is this central to everybody’s life, when everybody is as worried as they are now, then when you are not talking about the economy you are not winning.”
For every opportunity he has to talk about the economy in solid, clear-cut terms, McCain backs off, hesitating to go for the knockout with a clearly honed explanation of the pitfalls behind Obama’s “share the wealth” plan. Nor has he made much effort to elaborate on why Obama cannot keep his promise to cut taxes and implement his costly policies, and the obvious conclusion: one of those promises must be a lie.
Meanwhile, McCain’s choices have cost him the media’s attention as well. Until recently he’d continued an inexplicable and self-indulgent policy of taking entire weekends off. As a result, in the five weeks leading up to the final debate, team Obama (consisting of the candidate, his wife, and vice-presidential nominee Joe Biden), separately appeared at 95 political events in battleground states.
During that same period, McCain’s camp made a mere 55 stops. The result somewhat accounts for the imbalance in media reporting: more newsworthy events get more press coverage. Add to that the increased exposure Obama’s TV ads that are outnumbering McCain’s 3 to 1 — not including his recent purchase of a half-hour of prime time television on Oct. 29 — and it’s easy to understand why McCain has now decided to cast himself as the underdog.
But if he is an underdog, it’s due to his own campaign choices. Why continue to focus on Obama’s curious and questionable friends and alliances when it’s obviously not playing well with voters? Why hammer on the message of dangerous inexperience when the polls clearly show people are more interested in policy? Is McCain so disengaged with his own party’s platform that he can’t portray himself otherwise — too conservative to be a liberal, and too liberal to be a conservative?
Yes, I’ll be casting a vote for McCain but by doing so I’m not so much voting for him as I’m voting against Obama. And just as WaPo’s Kathleen Parker advises Obama that he shouldn’t take a victory on his part as a mandate so much as a vote against McCain, I’d hope McCain realizes the reverse is true, too. If he wins it won’t be on the basis of a well-run campaign; it will simply be because he’s not that one.