The Discerning Texan
All that is necessary for evil to triumph, is for good men to do nothing.
-- Edmund Burke
-- Edmund Burke
Monday, July 21, 2008
What McCain Has to do to Win--Attack
Hillary made her big gains at the end by attacking Obama; McCain had better learn from her, and fast:
Even her failure offers an instructive lesson for McCain. She went too long without frontally attacking Obama. When she did get more aggressive, he was already galloping toward the nomination on the strength of his narrow but insurmountable pledged-delegate lead. McCain has repeated this mistake, whether because of his sense of honor, his campaign’s disorganization, or, less likely, some master plan that escapes most observers. McCain and the Republican National Committee should have hit Obama right after he won the Democratic nomination. An Associated Press poll shows that the two words people tie most to Obama are “outsider” and “change,” associations McCain should have been contesting from Day One.There is much more; read the whole thing.
Once Clinton went after Obama in earnest, she came back. She surged on the strength of her “3 a.m. phone call” ad, which ran prior to the Ohio and Texas primaries and argued that she was better suited than the neophyte Obama to handle a crisis. And she rolled up her post-February wins on the basis of lunch-bucket appeals to working-class white and Hispanic voters. For a contemporary Democrat, Hillary ran a center-Right campaign; she talked of blowing Iran to smithereens, downed shots of Crown Royal, and appealed frankly to blue-collar whites. Many of these tactics had little substance, but they conveyed a sense of toughness that endeared Hillary to her voters and highlighted a vulnerability of the polished but aloof and fragile-seeming Obama.
McCain is in a better position to use this strategy against Obama than Clinton was. She was never wholly convincing in her adopted role as a working-class warrior. McCain, on the other hand, has the warrior part of the persona in his genes. Nor does McCain face the constraints Clinton did. Going negative in a primary makes party loyalists deeply nervous, and explicitly attacking cultural liberalism in a Democratic primary is unthinkable. Obama has more evident weaknesses than he did when the Democratic primaries started and he was freshly on the scene. His core audience, finally, is a smaller proportion of the general than of the Democratic-primary electorate.
Oddly enough, the most disgruntled of Clinton’s supporters are not the voters that McCain should try hardest to reach. It should go without saying that feminists will not deliver McCain the presidency. Her hard-core early supporters, middle-aged white feminists, may be complaining about Obama but are totally committed to abortion and will vote accordingly. It is her soft-core and later supporters who can be reached. Clinton got them so easily as to suggest that they were as much an anti-Obama vote as a pro-Clinton one.
McCain’s greatest opportunity will be among whites (and, to a lesser extent, Hispanics) without college degrees. Democrats who fell into these categories proved unreceptive to Obama in the primaries. McCain should have an even bigger opening among the independents and soft Democrats in these groups. Working-class whites have been swing voters in presidential elections, with most of their votes going to Republicans but the margin making the difference between victory and defeat. Many of them are at least moderately conservative on social issues, but they are receptive to Democratic proposals on health care, the minimum wage, and other economic issues. A lot of them are union members, or married to union members. If McCain makes inroads among these voters, his numbers will rise disproportionately in such swing states as Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and Nevada.
The first step toward getting them is to make the anti-Obama case. The cliché among political operatives and pundits is that this election is “about Obama.” The truth in the claim is that since the public would rather have a Democratic president, the race will turn largely on whether Obama is an acceptable one. It follows that McCain’s main task is to make him unacceptable to voters — and particularly to non-black working-class voters. He has to first raise concerns about Obama and then show how his candidacy addresses those concerns.
The case against Obama need not (and probably should not) be subtle. In a nutshell: He’s too inexperienced, too liberal, and as a result too risky. McCain has to argue that a man who has been in the Senate a mere four years, and whose most significant résumé items prior to that are a stint in the Illinois legislature and time as a community organizer, is not ready to be commander-in-chief in dangerous times. The flip-flop charges against Obama will achieve nothing for McCain unless they are deployed to make him look risky: immature (he doesn’t know what he thinks), weak (he caves to pressure), and dishonest (he tries to fool people).
On top of this, McCain has to go after Obama’s liberalism, which verges on radicalism. The congealing conventional wisdom is that attacks on liberalism are “tired.” But there is no evidence that the “change” the public wants is left-wing. McCain is deeply averse (for no good reason) to hitting Obama over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But Obama’s record, from Illinois to the Senate to the campaign trail, provides many other openings. The bottom line is that Obama is a liberal you can’t trust and can’t, in every sense, afford.