Thursday, July 31, 2008

Campaign Mistakes and What Could Have Been

That was the title of a topic on “The O’Reilly Factor” on Tuesday night of this week. The host was reviewing some of the reasons that the McCain campaign is lagging. Looking at the caption for the story, the answer was obvious to me.

The biggest campaign problem for John McCain is that he was the one who won the nomination.

In a cluttered race, the Arizona senator was an early favorite to win the nomination simply because he had the most national recognition of any candidate in the Republican field. Despite the fact that his campaign suffered a near-death experience at this time last summer because of his atrocious immigration reform legislation, he was the most well-known candidate in the field. People knew Rudy Giuliani from his leadership on September 11, 2001 and the following days, but his northeastern liberalism was untenable for a Republican primary. If anybody knew anything about Mitt Romney in 2007 it was that he was a pro-choice Mormon (as late as 2005) from Massachusetts. Three strikes and he was out. Nobody had heard of Mike Huckabee, Fred Thompson was vacationing, and nobody would give Ron Paul the time of day. So, it was John McCain who commanded the most notoriety.

Republican talking heads like Sean Hannity were pleading about electability at this time last year. That explains why he so enthusiastically supported Rudy Giuliani because the New York City mayor had a legitimate chance of beating the inevitable Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. The Clinton campaign went down to a stunning defeat that was only outdone by Mr. Giuliani’s even more disappointing campaign. So much for inevitability.

When it appeared that a Giuliani candidacy would hold no water in a nationwide election for Republicans, John McCain became the most “electable” candidate in the field. He talked a good game about the right to life, making the Bush tax cuts permanent, nominating strict constructionist judges to the Supreme Court, and how he is a war hero. He appealed to the party’s conservative base while he had to before he returned to his role as a maverick, also known as a liberal Republican. And now no one can get excited about the McCain campaign. As it sits now, the best chance Mr. McCain has of winning the general election is if Republicans can scare enough people about Barack Obama, which is a distinct possibility.

John McCain presides over a disconsolate party. The Bush years have simply wrecked the Republican Party and reduced the conservative movement to a mere shadow of its former self. While conservatives were once the skeptics about government and questioners of increased power, they have now become the staunchest defenders of an administration that spent like drunk Democrats, vastly expanded the power of the executive, and defended wars that their conservative ancestors would have found appalling. Conservatives, for the most part, discredited themselves by attaching themselves so closely to President Bush, a now discredited president. Now they face the dilemma of having to support John McCain, who may very well prove to be worse than Mr. Bush. But keep in mind that Mr. Obama might just accomplish that as well.

As much as talk radio wants to blame Democrats for voting in Republican primaries to make Mr. McCain the nominee against a stronger Democratic opponent, the current scenario is ultimately the fault of the Republicans themselves. They got caught up in defending the Bush legacy before the man even leaves office, and became too consumed by the faux concept of “electability” or “winability.”

This year and last, Representative Ron Paul tapped into a vein of the Republican Party that was disaffected by the war in Iraq and by the Bush years. He, and to a certain extent Mike Huckabee, represented an anti-establishment strain that played well with many Republicans and Independents. He was a reminder of what the Republicans used to be before they became completely consumed with obtaining power and expanding it. Dr. Paul never voted to raise taxes, never voted to restrict the right to own a gun, never voted on legislation which would have expanded the power of the executive, has a 100% pro-life voting record, and voted against going to Iraq in the first place. Yet he was maligned and considered out of his mind. It is no coincidence that Republicans who identify themselves as “Ron Paul Republicans,” namely Walter Jones and B. J. Lawson of North Carolina, are the Republicans who are performing best. In South Carolina, Bob Conley promotes himself as a “Ron Paul Democrat” and appears to be a viable challenger to the increasingly unpopular Lindsey Graham. The Bush and McCain brand of Republicanism has been utterly repudiated and is doomed to defeat in November. The Ron Paul Revolution is a bright spot for Republicans to achieve electoral success but they do not seem particularly impressed with it because Ron Paul’s brand of Republicanism is not obsessed with executive power and hubris abroad.

Republicans and conservatives are in total depression over their massively disappointing candidate, but like the tragedy of the Bush administration, it was not inevitable. A genuine conservative could have been picked who would have had a viable chance to win this general election, but the party was too concerned with the retention of power and not some prodigal return to their convictions. The Republicans are facing electoral destruction this fall because they abandoned their political values and nominated someone who personified their power obsession the best. Now the Republicans are staring destruction in the eye with their lousy candidate. It is not as though no one saw this coming.

Happy voting.

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