Tuesday, December 02, 2008


John Cole highly recommends Matt Taibbi's story on the McCain campaign from the November 27 Rolling Stone. Taibbi's article is fun, but I don't agree with a couple of his main premises:

McCain comes from the school of politicking that goes after as many votes as possible by waving a flag and saying as little as possible, which is to say he was basically a third-way Democrat with a Goldwater fetish....

His presence atop the ticket this year was evidence of profound anxiety within the party about its chances in the general election. After eight disastrous years of Bush, they thought they had lost the middle -- so they picked a middling guy to get it back.

Which made sense, right up until the moment when they stuck him with Pinochet in heels for a running mate.

Uh, no. The Republicans didn't really "pick" McCain; they basically wound up going home with him at closing time because going home alone wasn't really an option. Prior to that, they were never satisfied with the pickings.

Look at the primary and caucus results: McCain won only 3 of the 8 contests held before Super Tuesday, and never scored more than 37% of the vote. After that, Rudy Giuliani and Fred Thompson dropped out -- and McCain still won only 10 of 20 contests on Super Tuesday, and cleared 50% in only 4 of those 10. (He didn't even top 50% in his own state.)

This wasn't like what was going on on the Democratic side, at least at first: Democrats went into the primaries believing that practically everyone in the field was ideologically acceptable, and began to nitpick only later. The Republicans' problem was that many of them thought no one was sufficiently pure -- they didn't like Rudy's social liberalism or Huckabee's squishiness on the arts and immigration or Romney's pre-road-to-Damascus moderation or Fred Thompson's unconscionable refusal to vote to convict Clinton on both impeachment articles. McCain was admired by military veterans and non-wingnut Republicans and crossover voters, but he was despised by Christian conservatives and close-the-borders absolutists and all manner of Limbaughnistas. But he's what emerged from the scrum.

(This, by the way, is why I keep telling you that Palin is a serious threat in 2012 -- because she doesn't need majority support in her party, only support in the mid-30s until a few other candidates drop out. And I think the cult worship she inspires is a clear sign that she can hit that target.)

Speaking of Palin, it's very, very wrong to say that anyone "stuck" McCain with "Pinochet in heels." (Though you gotta love that line, as well as Taibbi's reference to Palin as "the Osama bin Laden of soccer moms, crusading against germs, communism, atheism and other such unclean elements strictly banned by American law.") Yes, the ayatollahs of the party told McCain he couldn't run with his buddy Lieberman, but they didn't tell him that he couldn't run with Tim Pawlenty or Mitt Romney or Bobby Jindal or Eric Cantor. For McCain, picking Palin obviously felt like placing a huge bet in Hour 16 of a Vegas craps jag. If he didn't know what he was getting into, it's because he didn't want to. And maybe she was ideologically incompatible with some earlier version of him, but he'd been running a Rovian campaign for months before she cam on board, and he swung into the McCarthyism of both Palin and his own campaign advisers with all the gusto of a middle-age-crazy man trying to keep up with the substance abuse of a new young girlfriend.

Shed no tears for Johnny Mac, Matt -- everything that happened to him he brought on himself.


UPDATE: Kevin K. is reading Taibbi, too, and now I see why he was more optimistic than I was in the weeks before the election:

Of all of the Republican candidates, the only one I feared was McCain. The "maverick" of 2000 (or even 2004) would have been pretty difficult to beat, regardless of who the Dem pick was. But ... in the end [Palin] became McCain's Kryptonite.... I knew from the moment I saw her smug froth-inducing speech at the Republican convention that it was all uphill for him going forward, regardless of the quick bump her arrival gave the ticket. He was officially boxed-in by the wingnut mouth-breathers....

Now, as I see it, he was always boxed in by the wingnuts. But I thought -- and I continue to think -- that if Palin had managed any follow-through on her convention speech, she would have been serious trouble for the Democrats. A fresh face with some star power who can fake niceness while serving up red meat for the crazy GOP base (which the press won't describe as crazy or extreme)? I don't think that combination has lost its power even yet -- it just got stale, and Palin, if she'd had Jindal's brains and resume to go with her own wattage, and if she'd known how to walk right up to the McCarthyite line without blatantly crossing it, might have make it work again. But we'll never know, because she was so staggeringly unready and incompetent, and she never knew it (and still doesn't, and neither did McCain at first, even though it was obvious).

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