Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Straight Thinking About How to Beat McCain in November

Democratic voters may have finally found something they can agree with Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter about: none of them is happy about John McCain's front-runner status in the Republican presidential field. (Coulter even claims she would prefer Hillary Clinton to McCain). I don't know whether Limbaugh and Coulter are right to be upset about McCain, but Democratic voters ought to take a deep breath and stop worrying so much, even if McCain does lock up the Republican nomination on Super Tuesday -- McCain is not as formidable a general election candidate as we make him out to be.

It's not hard to see why some Obama and Clinton supporters are worried about McCain. He is a war hero with what seems to be an unchallenged image as a"straight talker", an image regularly burnished by an adoring media. Mere facts cannot affect the received wisdom that McCain is authentic, a truth teller. Last week, Chris Matthews praised McCain's"candor" in admitting his knowledge about economics is limited, even though McCain actually refused to own up to the admission when he was asked about it during a recent debate. (Matthews has also told McCain "you know you're in my heart" , and has said that "the press loves McCain. We're his base.") As documented by Media Matters, a watchdog group focused on conservative bias in the press, the media frequently describes McCain as a "maverick" despite the fact that he almost always votes the party line, on issues from immigration (his position has changed there to line up with the party) to tax cuts (ditto) to Iraq (like Bush, he's always be wrong on that one).

This reality--that McCain has stood with his president and his party on core issues-- is where he is vulnerable in the general election. President Bush is deeply unpopular. Recent polling by ABC News and the Washington Post shows three-quarters of Americans want to see the next president lead the country in a direction different from Bush's. Republicans, 67% ofwhom still approve of Bush's performance, may see it as a plus that McCain stands with the president in touting the surge in Iraq. Democrats and independents, who believe the war was a mistake and that the troops should come home, understand that the surge is a tactic, not a strategy. The troops did their job, as they always do, but Iraq, sadly, remains a mess. There is no real strategy to change the controlling dynamic in Iraq--that millions have fled a country torn apart by continuing sectarian violence. The only solution is a political one, and Iraq's leaders have not stepped up to the challenge, failing to meet more than half of the benchmarks PresidentBush himself set forth as a way to measure the surge's success. McCain's recent statement that it would be"fine with me" if American troops are in Iraq for 100 years may resonate with Republican voters, but to the rest of us it sounds like more of what we have gotten from Bush, a stubborn refusal to recognize reality.

It's not just Iraq--McCain stands with the president's failed policy on tax cuts for the wealthy (after initially opposing them, McCain voted in 2006 to extend them for five years). He has the same position as the president and conservative Republicans when it comes to abortion and judicial nominees--he believes Roe v. Wade should be overturned, and he would appoint judges who would make it so. (The outcry on the right surrounding McCain's alleged statement that he would nominate Supreme Court justices like Roberts, but not Alito, is much ado about nothing. First, Roberts and Alito vote nearly identically on the Court. Second, McCain denies making the statement, and calls Alito a"magnificent choice".)

McCain likes to describe himself as a footsoldier inthe Reagan revolution, but he has actually been a footsoldier for President Bush, campaigning hard for the president's re-election in 2004. The Washington Post reported that McCain was a "regular presence" onAir Force one during the 2004 campaign. A Bush advisor said McCain was "like a debate coach". McCain has tried to distinguish himself from Bush on issues like the initial handling of the Iraq war and the response to Hurricane Katrina, but the reality is that McCain did all that he could to return this man to the White House in 2004.

McCain may very well put the Republican nomination away on Super (Duper?) Tuesday, but Democrats going to the polls in the hotly contested Obama-Clinton race need not despair. Whether it's Obama or Clinton, or both, on the Democratic ticket, the strategy for opposing McCain in the general election should be clear. Focus like a laser beam on theconnections tying McCain to Bush, and ask the voters whether they want more of what they have been gettingfor the past seven years.


Blogger Chris said...

Good points. Hope the Dems to don’t muck up this election.

8:41 PM  
Blogger Chris Edelson said...

thanks Chris. long way to go, but I think they are in good shape.

1:15 PM  

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