Tuesday, November 25, 2008

When McCain Lost the Election

From Political Wire:

Suspending Campaign Doomed McCain

A post-election assessment by Wilson Research Strategies concludes that though Barack Obama "leveraged a Democratic advantage on the economy throughout the campaign," it wasn't until John McCain's "ill-fated efforts to 'lead' on the bailout that he truly lost control of the issue."
My own political analysis at the time wasn't quite that well-developed or intelligently expressed, but it was one of the few occasions during the campaign that my instincts were good.

I sent a brief email to Liam the day McCain suspended his campaign:
Subject: McCain Is Nuts

And I think he just lost the election.
Two days earlier
, as the stock market collapsed, McCain had delivered his infamous remark that "the fundamentals of our economy are strong."

By then suspending his campaign, he not only seemed lost in dealing with the economic crisis, he also called into question his own leadership skills. Rather than appearing presidential, he seemed erratic and confused.

The impression was even more pronounced when compared with Obama's cool-headedness.

I haven't seen any post-election analysis that mentions The Letterman Factor, but one wonders how much impact David Letterman had when he tore McCain to shreds on national television that night. He immediately understood the lack-of-leadership implications of McCain's stunt, and he slammed the candidate brutally before millions of viewers.
"You don't quit.

You don't suspend your campaign. This doesn't smell right. This isn't the way a tested hero behaves. I think someone's putting something in his metamucil.

What are you going to do if you're elected and things get tough? Suspend being president? We've got a guy like that now!"
The one factor ignored in the
Wilson Research Strategies report is how well Obama turned McCain's stunt against him. He brilliantly suggested that McCain couldn't do two things at once - a crippling charge against a man who wants to lead the country in a time of crisis. And by refusing to cancel the first debate that was scheduled two days later, as McCain foolishly suggested, Obama looked confident and strong while his opponent seemed desperate.

Obviously, there were many reasons why McCain lost the election - the pick of Sarah Palin being another major element. But I do think the week of September 22-26, 2008 was the pivotal point in the election, when the nation turned away from McCain as a possible leader. Amazingly, it had nothing to do with his opponent; it was a purely self-inflicted wound.

There are several other interesting chunks of information in the WRS report, which is presented as an easy-to-follow slideshow.


Liam said...

Yeah, I remember that email. It seemed crazy to me as well. I kept wondering how that played in places like Ohio.

I think a lot has to be said for Obama's campaign, which has a lot to do with his temperament. It's not just that he was level-headed that week, he was the whole time. Level-headed with the long view. McCain, having already betrayed his "brand" by capitulating to the GOP right-wing, associated with an unpopular president, and not that good of a candidate to start with, was basically psyched out by Obama's coolness the whole time. That led him to listen to idiots like Steve Schwartz who counseled him to grab news cycles with stunts like the campaign "suspension" and the choice of Sarah Palin.

cowboyangel said...


I wanted to include our back-and-forth on the McCain Is Nuts email. Do you have your response(s)? I must have deleted it/them.

That's an excellent point about Obama being level-headed throughout, and how that might've affected McCain's decisions. That might explain why McCain would listen to Schwartz, which has been something of a mystery to me. I suppose he thought it was the only way to have any chance. But it's always puzzled me that McCain would move so far away from who he had been. Though, obviously, he started that process long before the general election.

Garpu said...

I think that was the nail in his coffin, so to speak, but the real switch came with Palin. I think a lot of moderates who would've voted for him voted for Obama, instead, because they didn't want their party going into extremes again.

cowboyangel said...

Palin was definitely a huge factor, for the reasons you cite. And that was before the turkey slaughter photo op!

McCain never could find a way to bring the different groups of people together he needed to. By abandoning his moderate reputation and kowtowing to the right, even back in 2006, he was already losing balance. The more he shifted to the right, the more moderates he lost. If he had remained moderate, and chosen Lieberman, as he wanted, he wouldn't have satisfied his right-wing base.

It's a dilemma for the Republican Party. Hopefully one that will continue for a while.