Monday, April 10, 2006


I don't know if you're still watching The West Wing, but in last night's episode Matt Santos, the underdog Democratic nominee, won the presidency in a squeaker; he'll succeed Jed Bartlet, the two-term Democrat played by Martin Sheen. But according to today's New York Times, the writers originally had a different plan:

...Lawrence O'Donnell, an executive producer of the show, said he and his fellow writers had declared Santos the winner only after the death, in mid-December, of John Spencer, who portrayed Santos's running mate, Leo McGarry. At the time of Mr. Spencer's death, the plot for last night's episode had been set: the election was to be won by Alan Alda's Arnold Vinick, a maverick Republican (modeled a bit on Senator John McCain), whom many Democrats (including the Democrats who write the show) could learn to love.

But after Mr. Spencer died, Mr. O'Donnell said in a recent interview, he and his colleagues began to confront a creative dilemma: would viewers be saddened to see Mr. Smits's character lose both his running mate and the election? The writers decided that such an outcome would prove too lopsided, in terms of taxing viewers' emotions, so a script with the new, bittersweet ending -- including the election-night death of Mr. Spencer's character -- was undertaken...

Now, remember -- this is a writing staff that, on the surface, precisely matches right-wingers' stereotypes about Hollywood:

... there were no registered Republicans in the most recent incarnation of the "West Wing" writers' room, which included Eli Attie, a former speechwriter for Al Gore.

And yet the Republican was originally going to win. (And I think it's possible he'll wind up as vice president, given the closeness of the race, the death of the #2 man on the Democratic ticket, and the many other bizarre deviations from American political reality that the writers have put into the show's presidential race.)

I bring all this up because of something George Will wrote last week: those Republicans who turn out to pick presidential nominees, one electoral consideration could trump ideological aversions [to a John McCain candidacy]: California. Ken Khachigian, a veteran of Ronald Reagan's White House, is a California Republican strategist who in 2000 was a senior adviser to McCain's campaign. Khachigian says McCain could "put California in play." McCain might be the only conceivable Republican nominee who could.

To put California in play is not the same thing as carrying it. But carrying it is not necessary to significantly improve a Republican nominee's national chances. If the nomination of McCain could force the Democratic nominee to spend a number of days and, say, $30 million to secure California's 55 electoral votes, those days and dollars could not be spent in Ohio, Florida and other battleground states.

McCain could "put California in play"? Nonsense. McCain could romp in California. McCain could win every state in the union. So, by the way, could Giuliani -- in fact, I'm telling you right now that if Giuliani is the Republican nominee, he will win New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. You can take that to the bank.

To understand why, just look at those West Wing writers. They're supposed to be the fierce Propaganda Commandos of the Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy, but they really wanted to believe in a Republican "modeled a bit on Senator John McCain." In fact, they made Vinick quite different from McCain -- he's a pro-choice social libertarian who rejects calls to talk openly about his religious beliefs (and, since the death of his wife, might not have any faith at all anymore.) But I suspect he's what they want to believe McCain is. And in any case, Vinick's a pro-nuke fiscal conservative with a wingnut running mate -- yet they were prepared to make him the hero of future seasons (though now the show's been canceled).

What I'm getting at is the fact that liberalism, even in the bluest states, is a mile wide and an inch deep. Too many liberals don't trust their own political beliefs enough to stick with them. Like battered wives, they really want to believe Republicans "can change," that they can stop being mean to the rest of us. So at the first sign of moderation, voters in California, a state where the GOP was considered "dead," made Schwarzenegger governor. Massachusetts hasn't put a Democrat in the State House since Dukakis left office in 1990. Pataki won three terms as New York's governor, and Giuliani and Bloomberg have won four terms as mayor of New York City.

So it all comes down to whether McCain can convince the base of his own party that he's acceptable. If he does that and gets the nomination, he's president in a landslide.

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