Three Myths About McCain's Defeat

In the wake of what turned out to be a very decisive victory for Barack Obama, many McCain/Palin loyalists and party stalwarts will try to employ a multitude of excuses, explanations and revisionist history in the days ahead that could quickly become engrained as part of this election’s mythology.


In the wake of what turned out to be a very decisive victory for Barack Obama, many McCain/Palin loyalists and party stalwarts will try to employ a multitude of excuses, explanations and revisionist history in the days ahead that could quickly become engrained as part of this election’s mythology. The list could be much longer, but here are my top three myths to watch out for...1) Palin was still a smart choice: We’ve heard the Palin defense repeatedly—the first term Alaska governor energized the base, generated much-needed enthusiasm and bolstered fundraising efforts. All of that is undeniable. But so what? The initial case for Palin was that the surprising, “maverick” pick would not only appeal to the base of the Republican Party, but to independent voters in swing-states, suburban women and disaffected Hillary supporters. But Palin systematically alienated each of those constituencies, driving women, independents and moderates to Obama, many of whom McCain had polled well with before Palin’s selection. Palin’s addition to the ticket didn’t even help secure traditionally red states like VA, IN, FL or NC, just to name a few, and swing voters in OH and PA never came around to her, particularly in PA where she and McCain spent enormous amounts of time at the end, but still lost by 11 points. Going into the election Palin had the highest negatives on either ticket and a Pew poll showed the Republican VP nominee was a bigger drag on McCain’s candidacy than President Bush. Finally, according to NBC News exit polling, 60% of voters said Palin was not qualified, meaning even many McCain voters questioned her readiness.2) McCain had to make the election all about Obama: One of the other fatal flaws of the Palin selection was that it stripped McCain of his most potent weapon—the experience argument. So while Obama had a clear, overarching message of change, McCain seemed to lurch from one tactic to the next, with no clear strategy. Whereas in 2004, President Bush’s central theme was, “You might not always agree with me, but I’ll keep you safe,” the McCain campaign never seemed to hone its own identity because it was so focused on trying to define Obama. He was a celebrity, a socialist, a guy who pals around with terrorists. In the end, even in his closing argument, McCain didn’t really offer a compelling reason to vote for him, just a litany of reasons not to vote for Obama.3) This was a year in which no Republican could win: Of all the Republicans who sought the nomination this year, John McCain was the one guy who could have won in the midst of a brutally tough climate for his party. The campaign was tight throughout the summer, and after the Republican National Convention McCain even pulled ahead for a while, indicating the public’s clear openness to elect another Republican. That was until mid-September when the financial crisis hit. But again, the financial mess was not a guaranteed loser for McCain, it was an opportunity to seize the experience argument once more by demonstrating steady leadership. Instead, with chief strategist Steve Schmidt’s encouragement, McCain took another huge gamble with his odd campaign suspension and generally discombobulated response. This all made Obama look more presidential to many voters who had previously harbored reservations about his readiness to lead, and actually made McCain seem like the riskier choice than a guy who had been a state senator four years earlier. In other words, these were not outside factors beyond McCain’s control that lost this election—the failure can be credited to McCain himself. Still, McCain’s concession speech was extraordinary. His grace and authenticity in defeat reminded many voters, including Democrats, why they had respected the Arizona Senator in the past. If that John McCain had been more visible throughout the campaign, the outcome might have been different.Doug Daniels is a contributor to Politics magazine.Doug1856@msn.com


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