Would McCain’s Loss Be The Fault of His Party?

October 20, 2008

CNN analyst Gloria Borger recently raised an interesting question: in the increasingly close reality of a McCain loss, who will be to blame? 

As I detailed in another post, I used a quote stating a common fact: the Republican party is not currently popular. This can be brought out in many different ways, but recently the common scapegoat for McCain eventually falling short of the presidency would be because of the party he is running in. 

Many people would also point out that Sarah Palin ultimately will hand the McCain campaign a loss, mostly because of the clear cut political line she placed between McCain and Barack Obama, and the fact that her social conservative standing has moved the McCain too far right than they want to be strategically. 

And then there are many people who say that the reason McCain choose Palin wasn’t exactly strategic — she was rather chosen from the commands of the far right base, which is contradicting to another recent post and what I will bring up here. 

My opinion here is that the nomination of Palin for running mate may have been a factor the far right wanting Palin’s politics, but in the end I believe that the main reason for McCain to go with Palin was nothing more than strategy.

As I have pointed out a large number of times, the acquisition of Palin was in fact well orchestrated, providing a media diversion from the Obama campaign and redirecting it to McCain for the good part of two months. 

But what I failed to point out is this: Palin was not the best strategic choice for McCain — Joe Lieberman was.

Why? Lieberman would have moved John McCain’s campaign to the the left, not necessarily where the conservative base would have enjoyed it being, but precisely where the votes that will ultimately be the nail in McCain’s political coffin lie — moderates.  

Because of Lieberman’s political standing, he would do the opposite that Palin has done — move McCain farther left. And because of this, Lieberman would increased McCain’s overall popularity, and fetched more votes rather than excited a handful of extremely right conservatives. 

But the possibility of choosing Lieberman also answers the overall question of this post — will McCain’s loss be credited to the Republican party. 

And the answer to that question is no. If McCain (who some consider to the most liberal Republican who ran) chose Lieberman instead of Sarah Palin, he would be in a significantly better place strategically by turning his campaign arguably the most liberal the Republican party has ever seen. 

In short, McCain is on track to lose the election in part because of his unpopular party and demanding base, but he had the chance to dodge both of those obstacles with the acquisition of Joe Lieberman. 

To open this up to the commenters, is has McCain’s party been a factor if he falls short of the oval office, and what would have happened if Lieberman was chosen?

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25 Responses to “Would McCain’s Loss Be The Fault of His Party?”

  1. David Lamb Says:

    I think Mr. McCain’s nomination by the party–the nomination of one of the party’s least loyal members in contention–was an admission of the weakness of the party. McCain consistently polls well above the Republican Party and ultimately if he loses, it will be the fault of the current issues of the GOP. If McCain can’t win it, and he probably can’t, no other Republican could have.

  2. pacer521 Says:

    David,

    I agree. As I quoted in that other post: “The party that can’t lose [Dem.] has nominated a candidate that can’t win, and the party that can’t win [Rep.] has nominated a candidate that can’t lose.” I may not fully agree with that, but it is pretty close to accurate.

    thanks for the comment!


  3. I agree with David Lamb. The current administration has done too much to poison the party for most Americans. McCain may have been the best shot at getting some of the moderate votes, but a lot of people just want a change. If Obama wins and is able to turn around the perception of the White House, it could be a while before another Republican gets elected.

  4. pacer521 Says:

    Involuntaryfury,

    While that most likely will be true, if Obama does in fact rework Washington and gets us back on the right track, we could see something close to a 2000 USA (a country on the right track) all over again, and a Republican candidate will be looked at seriously. Until then….

    thanks for the comment.

  5. Stefan Says:

    The issue is that hardcore conservatives would have gone APE*** if McCain had picked Lieberman.

    The press would have loved it because it would have been a “maverick move”, but his party would have rioted, possibly fielding a third party candidate, as James Dobson threatened to do this summer if the base wasn’t listened to. I do think the base still matters: Palin’s selection did narrow the field by putting some states in the West and the South that looked like favorable turf for Obama this summer back into McCain’s column.

    That’s because he was already distrusted by the righties to begin with, so he really had to throw them a bone. McCain really couldn’t satisfy everyone: there really is no candidate who could reassure the moderate, socially liberal indies that he needs while also reassuring the base. And since Bush rode the base to victory in ’04, he chose them. Problem is, a lot has happened in four years to erode that strength.

    Plus, I’m not sure I buy the idea that Lieberman is seen as that appealing by moderates. On his most salient issue – foreign policy – he’s arguably to the right of McCain on a deeply unpopular platform. Plus, in Connecticut, where he was reelected over the wishes of Democrats by the indies of that state, he is now despised because of this kind of ideological tone-deafness. Granted, it’s Connecticut, but these sentiments aren’t that different from the nation at large. Lieberman may have just inflamed anti-war indies while also pushing social conservatives further away from the party. I dunno. It’s spilled milk. But beware of glossing over realities in hindsight.

    Love this blog, btw. Looking forward to hearing your response.

    -S

  6. pacer521 Says:

    Stefan,

    Thanks for the comment.

    You are right, the far right conservatives would have not liked the move, but what they would have to face is this reality: its either Lieberman or Obama. Palin just wouldn’t get McCain any major help as far as votes, but she would please the far right conservatives. And that is the choice McCain made. Its a bit debatable if she has essentially thrown the election, but that’s another story that you can revert back to with my last post.

    The base does matter, but this is an example of the Republican party being split into two categories: Bush, and the present. If the leader of the conservative base ran for president, he wouldn’t win mostly because their policies are similar to Bush’s, something that isn’t exactly hot right now with the media or the public.

    I agree that McCain can’t please anyone, mostly because he is torn between two realities — the votes will come if he says one thing, but that thing probably isn’t going to satisfy the base.

    This is interesting because the democratic base isn’t like this at the moment — Obama’s base likes the same policies that will get Obama votes and I think this has let Obama be more free and intellectual in this campaign.

    Although Lieberman may not be very popular, he is certainly a heck of a lot more popular with moderates than Sarah Palin. I just think that pushing the McCain campaign to the left would strategically help them more than pushing to to the right.

    Thanks for the compliment.

  7. Terrant Says:

    Lieberman, while a better choice than Palin, would have cause a backlash in the ranks of the republicans. I’m not sure that McCain would have picked up more votes from moderates that what he would lose from the hard core republicans. The pro-life crowd has a lot of pull in the republicans and a Lieberman nomination would have caused them to not support him.

    Remember, McCain has spent the last 8 years trying to make himself look more like Bush so that he would better appeal to the base and get the nomination. He has claimed that he has voted with Bush 90% of the time (that is his words). For that reason, I think he was forced into choosing someone that appeals to the base.

  8. Alberto Says:

    Even with a backlash from Liebermann, Republicans are still probably not going to go vote Democratic. They’ll either vote for a 3rd party candidate like Bob Barr or not at all. And something tells me that McCain would have still had a shot regardless.

    The Democratic party is larger than the Republican party. Sticking strickly to party lines the Democrats should win every time, but the independents change all of that.

  9. pacer521 Says:

    Terrant,

    I think we’ll have to disagree on that. I think there would have been a Republican backlash, but not enough of one to effect the moderate vote. I guess that’s just a question of stats.

    Thanks for the comment.

  10. pacer521 Says:

    Alberto,

    Your right, the Independents do swing election after election. But I’ll still have to go with what I said before.

  11. A Citizen Says:

    I think there are a lot of factors.

    The Republicans bench was rather thin after 8 years of the Bush administration. Rudy was nearly coronated as the GOP nominee, but he fell on his face right away. The other candidates fell flat, and the rest of the party lined up behind him once he had a significant lead.

    But he had nothing. He had hitched his wagon to the Bush administration, and couldn’t offer anything else. Unable to inspire his own party, he had to throw them red meat by choosing Palin. There had to have been members of the religious right who would have been better choices, Huckabee comes to mind.

    So it is a lot of factors, a GOP in disarray, an uninspiring GOP nominee, and a phenomenal candidate in Barack Obama.

  12. lefthandedman Says:

    of who will be blamed: McCain by the GOP, the GOP by most Americans, and Karl Rove by the media.
    “Conservatism cannot fail, it can only be failed”.

    So, if McCain loses, he will be blamed as ‘liberal’ by his base. The public is actively rejecting Rove Republicanism, but the media’s love of John McCain will lead them to say he was ‘led astray’ by the Roves of the Right.

    The alternative is to embrace the idea, by the media and the GOP, that America has rejected Movement Conservatism. An idea that is about as likely as a Born-Again Christian welcoming an abortion clinic across the street from their MegaChurch.

  13. politics3 Says:

    Yes, Lieberman would certainly have been the best choice.

    Right now, McCain says that he is a maverick, but picking Lieberman would show that he was a maverick. It would have been a great pick, which would have gotten him enough independents and Clinton Dems to win the election.

    His main problem then would be the wingnuts. If Lieberman was the VP, 40% of the delegates would have rejected his nomination on the convention floor. To get the wingnuts, he would run a very nasty personal campaign against Obama to win back the wingnuts by convincing them that Obama was awful.

    The problem was that McCain’s strategy was to win wingnuts by picking Palin, and win the center by destroying Obama. The problem was that the center didn’t care for the attacks on Obama. McCain should have won the center first, and then tried to win the right-wing.

  14. huxbux Says:

    McCain was fighting an uphill battle from the get-go. Take a look at how every incumbent party faired in a general presidential election during or immediately following a major war and/or a major economic recession. The incumbent party has always lost. This is election is no different.

    McCain’s lose can be, in large part, attributed to the name of the party he’s running under. The combination of an unpopular war and the recent stock market crash are the two and, essentially, only reasons why McCain will not win the race. His VP selection is ancillary. Neither Lieberman, Palin, Romney, or Kermit the Frog would have altered the voter perception that McCain is linked with Bush, that Bush is a Republican, that Bush presided over a divisive war and a failing economy, and that McCain is running on a Republican ticket.

    Voter decisions are largely emotional based and not centered around critical thinking. The thought process is quite simple – “I’m not voting for the guy whose party lead this country into the crapper. I’m going with the other guy.”

    Voters aren’t nuanced enough to make strong delineations between policy differences. We cast broad generalized strokes when it comes to evaluating a candidate and which one has our vote. If we were critical, we wouldn’t have the kind of emotional fervor that runs rampant with our partisan political system. Quite simply, voters choose a side – good or evil.

  15. Stefan Says:

    I think what a lot of commenters are pointing out is that the Republican party is in the unenviable position of having a base that is still powerful enough to control the direction that the party goes, but not powerful enough to propel that party to victory on the national stage. This is something that they’re going to have to work out.

    What makes this even more difficult for them is that the Republican Party, since the early ’80s, has been an alliance between social conservatives and the business community. This is somewhat new historically, as the social movements of the past usually mixed religion and worker-oriented policies quite well (See: the Progressive Party). It’s also one that conceals a lot of tension, I think, since the low-income brackets that constitute the base of the religious right are not always so friendly to outsourcing, or corporate tax loopholes, or bailing out failing investment banks, or other policies that get championed by the Republican party’s financial wing. I think we may see the mother of all intra-party disputes as more conservative populists like Mike Huckabee come to prominence and do battle with the Mitt Romneys of the party elite. As long as they kept winning, the Republicans had pretty much papered over these ideological disputes, but now that they’re on the losing end (and as the economy comes back into the fore), we may see some action.

    Pass the popcorn. :)

  16. pacer521 Says:

    A Citizen,

    Your first points are on the right track with the exception of Ron Paul, who (if you remember) courted his fans to vote third party.

    I agree with the second point too. McCain did have a big disadvantage because he centered his policies around Bush, and now that he is not exactly popular, this was used against him.

    lefthandedman,

    Nice quote, and I agree. The movement conservative move wouldn’t exactly work.

  17. pacer521 Says:

    politics3,

    Thanks for the comment. I don’t know if Lieberman himself could have won the Oval Office for McCain, but he would have been the best pick in my opinion.

  18. pacer521 Says:

    huxbux,

    I agree that it is hard generally to run in the incumbent party after a major event like a war, but I think we also must understand that there has truly never been a time where America has been in the shape we are in with the economy, debt and war since the Revolution, if I can make that bold of a statement.

    Yes, of course during that time we weren’t hard pressed to find a president, rather hard pressed to create a better constitution, but you get my point. So that is why is disagree with you saying that the election is “no different.”

    I agree with the rest of your comment and thanks for the read, huxbux!

  19. David Says:

    Old stale gum from the bottom of my shoe would have been a better choice than Palin. Lieberman would have also been the wrong choice. The base would never accept him and the left view him as a trader. Romney was the best choice. Young, fresh, good looking and smart with the economy. This election was always going to be about the economy.

  20. 1superdave Says:

    Lieberman would have been a disaster. If Mccain loses it will be because of the drive by media. Case in point; Mark Foley . He was the club that the drive bys used to beat the republican brand down in 2006. Ironicaly the person who holds his very seat is in a scandal and I’ll bet you don’t even know his name. His wife filed for devorice yesturday amidst allegations he paid one of three misstresses $150,00.00 hush money.

  21. huxbux Says:

    @pacer

    I think a strong delineation has to be made between presidential elections pre-industrial revolution and post. The US economy, being agricultural based, was a localized economy. Where one area suffered did not predicate another area from suffering.

    There are several post industrial elections which fit the criteria of an incumbent party that waged a war and presided over a failed economy.

    1920: Democrat Wilson wins in 1916 on his policy to keep America out of WWI. Wilson enters the war. Recession hits in 1918. In 1920, Republican Harding wins the presidency.

    1932: Elected in 1928, Republican Herbert Hoover in office for the start of the Great Depression. Democrat Roosevelt wins the 1932.

    1952: Republican Eisenhower defeats the incumbent Dems in the midst of an unpopular and stalemate Korean War.

    1960: Recession hits in 1958 and US sees it’s first budget deficit. Incumbent Rep party loses to Democrat Kennedy.

    1968: Mired in the highly unpopular Vietnam War, Democrat Johnson chooses not to run for relection. Rep Nixon takes office.

    1976: Scarred by Watergate, a Rep party viewed as corrupt loses to Democrat Carter.

    1980: US is drowning high unemployment and inflation sees incumbent Dem Carter lose to Rep Reagan.

    1992: Recession hits in 1990. Rep President Bush loses to Dem Clinton.

    Presidential elections are a long tail of war and failing economies. Every single war/recession this country has seen post industrial revolution has seen the resulted in a lose by the incumbent party(the lone exception being Dem Roosevelt during WWII but his 1944 relection was narrow).

    I guess this is where we just might disagree, pacer. I don’t see this election as any more or less exceptional then many, many others.

  22. huxbux Says:

    I’d also add that if we agreed our nation has never seen quite the same conditions it faces now, then it would make it all the more difficult for the incumbent party to succeed in the election given the historical performance of past incumbents during war/recessions. That makes it even more predictable based on the premise I laid out.

  23. pacer521 Says:

    Huxbux,

    I guess we must agree on this one. Of course, in all fairness, I was not born in any of those other years so I must rely on my knowledge of books and people’s voices to cite those dates, which gives you the knowledge of living through some of those dates.

    However, I never said the election wouldn’t be predictable. It would very hard to predict completely because of the many factors, but surly not totally unpredictable. I only stated that this election is different from others, and that is what I’ll stand by.

    Thanks for the argument and taking the time to comment, huxbux.

  24. huxbux Says:

    @pacer

    Hey, I’m not old. I think you just called me old. :P

    Every election is unique, but the pattern is common. Add 1/2 a cup of recession, 1/3 unpopular war, bake for 4 years, and enjoy your delicious new ruling party.

    I really loath the fact that, to me, presidential election cycles are highly predictable. I desperately want to be convinced otherwise.

  25. pacer521 Says:

    Huxbux,

    hehehe, notice I used the word “some” when referring to those dates, so I wasn’t calling you old. :-p

    I still will stand by my statement about this being unique, but I’ll agree that I sometimes get bugged about turns an election takes that are in fact expected.


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