Commentary Magazine


Posts For: January 19, 2008

McCain’s Chance

Abe, the “McCain’s turn” thesis makes a lot of sense — except for the Lazarus bit. There is no precedent in primary history for a candidate who ran out of money, sank 15 points in the polls, and dismissed the top echelon of his staff turning it around as McCain has. He was left for dead in July, when he ran out of money and fired his closest electoral aide, John Weaver. Weaver was, by most accounts, a bad influence on McCain in the sense that he heightened his candidate’s sense of injury and entitlement and blamed the Republican party and the conservative movement for McCain’s own mistakes on the stump. One has to think that the departure of Weaver has proved a profound benefit to McCain, who doesn’t seem to have someone whispering in his ear recommending he insult and offend Republican voters as a means of securing independent support.

But McCain didn’t need Weaver to make mistakes, as his peculiar way of running to win the Michigan primary demonstrated. He has a defiant, even perverse streak, which is perfect for a gadfly but not the best quality for someone who needs to work to unite a coalition behind him. The next two weeks are the most important of his political life. It is his responsibility now to find a way to unite a divided party behind him — to say the things he needs to say to quiet the conservative-media riot against him. The danger for McCain is that he will be tempted to believe it’s the responsibility of those who don’t like him to shut up and support him anyway.

Abe, the “McCain’s turn” thesis makes a lot of sense — except for the Lazarus bit. There is no precedent in primary history for a candidate who ran out of money, sank 15 points in the polls, and dismissed the top echelon of his staff turning it around as McCain has. He was left for dead in July, when he ran out of money and fired his closest electoral aide, John Weaver. Weaver was, by most accounts, a bad influence on McCain in the sense that he heightened his candidate’s sense of injury and entitlement and blamed the Republican party and the conservative movement for McCain’s own mistakes on the stump. One has to think that the departure of Weaver has proved a profound benefit to McCain, who doesn’t seem to have someone whispering in his ear recommending he insult and offend Republican voters as a means of securing independent support.

But McCain didn’t need Weaver to make mistakes, as his peculiar way of running to win the Michigan primary demonstrated. He has a defiant, even perverse streak, which is perfect for a gadfly but not the best quality for someone who needs to work to unite a coalition behind him. The next two weeks are the most important of his political life. It is his responsibility now to find a way to unite a divided party behind him — to say the things he needs to say to quiet the conservative-media riot against him. The danger for McCain is that he will be tempted to believe it’s the responsibility of those who don’t like him to shut up and support him anyway.

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John McCain’s Appointment in South Carolina

Sometimes, the Republican party picks a nominee when it’s that nominee’s turn. The person has to be vetted out by a round or two in the presidential race. Ronald Reagan got the nomination in 1980 after losing it in 1976; George H. W. Bush earned the nomination in 1988 after losing it in 1980. Bob Dole was the GOP nominee in 1996 after losing in 1988. We don’t yet know if John McCain is going to the general election, but after the free-for-all of the Republican race so far, a sense of coalescence has set in with his victory in South Carolina.

There are clues to be read amongst pundits and GOP officials that McCain’s failings as a conservative ideologue are no longer of primary importance to his detractors and that his strengths as a leader may be have come center-stage. Recent editorials have tried to deflate any conservative expectations that a great Reagan purist will come to save the party, and McCain is steadily garnering the noticeable support of the top Republican establishment. Something has been conferred upon John McCain that feels unlike any of the “surges” or “moments” of the Democratic frontrunners. It just may be his turn.

Sometimes, the Republican party picks a nominee when it’s that nominee’s turn. The person has to be vetted out by a round or two in the presidential race. Ronald Reagan got the nomination in 1980 after losing it in 1976; George H. W. Bush earned the nomination in 1988 after losing it in 1980. Bob Dole was the GOP nominee in 1996 after losing in 1988. We don’t yet know if John McCain is going to the general election, but after the free-for-all of the Republican race so far, a sense of coalescence has set in with his victory in South Carolina.

There are clues to be read amongst pundits and GOP officials that McCain’s failings as a conservative ideologue are no longer of primary importance to his detractors and that his strengths as a leader may be have come center-stage. Recent editorials have tried to deflate any conservative expectations that a great Reagan purist will come to save the party, and McCain is steadily garnering the noticeable support of the top Republican establishment. Something has been conferred upon John McCain that feels unlike any of the “surges” or “moments” of the Democratic frontrunners. It just may be his turn.

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NEVADA: Delegate War . . .

. . . as expected.
From MSNBC:

The Obama campaign just held a conference call with reporters asserting that — due to Obama beating Clinton outside of Clark County (Las Vegas) — they actually won more pledged Nevada delegates than Clinton did, 13-12.

From the Washington Post:

Both the chairwoman of the Nevada Democratic Party and a senior adviser for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign are insisting that the contention that Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) won more delegates in today’s caucus is incorrect.

The Clintons were calling foul when Hillary was clearly winning . . .

. . . as expected.
From MSNBC:

The Obama campaign just held a conference call with reporters asserting that — due to Obama beating Clinton outside of Clark County (Las Vegas) — they actually won more pledged Nevada delegates than Clinton did, 13-12.

From the Washington Post:

Both the chairwoman of the Nevada Democratic Party and a senior adviser for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign are insisting that the contention that Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) won more delegates in today’s caucus is incorrect.

The Clintons were calling foul when Hillary was clearly winning . . .

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SOUTH CAROLINA: Fred Thompson’s Odd Speech

Fred Thompson’s speech was a little heavy on the civics lesson, but, stylistically, he maintained the hearth-and-home magnetism responsible for at least half of his appeal. He also maintained a baffling mix of endurance and sacrifice that leaves us wondering what in the world the point of the speech was. Everything about the man’s demeanor, and most things about his words, suggested a noble drop-out from the race. But it’s a very strange choice to do so in subtle code. He spoke of those who “deserve to lead,” yet gave no clear indication that he should or shouldn’t be numbered amongst them. Any comparisons between Thompson and Reagan as the great communicator are non-starters from this point on.

Fred Thompson’s speech was a little heavy on the civics lesson, but, stylistically, he maintained the hearth-and-home magnetism responsible for at least half of his appeal. He also maintained a baffling mix of endurance and sacrifice that leaves us wondering what in the world the point of the speech was. Everything about the man’s demeanor, and most things about his words, suggested a noble drop-out from the race. But it’s a very strange choice to do so in subtle code. He spoke of those who “deserve to lead,” yet gave no clear indication that he should or shouldn’t be numbered amongst them. Any comparisons between Thompson and Reagan as the great communicator are non-starters from this point on.

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NEVADA: Obama Wins Delegates

Obama won 13 Nevada delegates; Hillary won 12.

Three days ago, Hillary Clinton’s Communications Director Howard Wolfson said: “This is a race for delegates. It is not a battle for individual states. As David knows, we are well past the time when any state will have a disproportionate influence on the nominating process.”

Don’t expect this to quietly fade away.

Obama won 13 Nevada delegates; Hillary won 12.

Three days ago, Hillary Clinton’s Communications Director Howard Wolfson said: “This is a race for delegates. It is not a battle for individual states. As David knows, we are well past the time when any state will have a disproportionate influence on the nominating process.”

Don’t expect this to quietly fade away.

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SOUTH CAROLINA: McCain, Huck, and The Weather

Rain, sleet, and snow in South Carolina have the media puzzled. They keep mentioning the extreme weather, but never which candidate it might benefit. This is an interesting quote from Huckabee:

We have to take the weather for what it is. We don’t get to choose it. I just hope that our voters are so committed that it doesn’t affect the fact that they are going to vote, because … it’s a mission that they have to deal with today.

“[M]ission” is a telling turn of phrase.

The question is: Who’s more likely to brave the elements to vote for their man: Evangelicals, driven by religious devotion, or hardened veterans who’ve endured a lot worse?

Rain, sleet, and snow in South Carolina have the media puzzled. They keep mentioning the extreme weather, but never which candidate it might benefit. This is an interesting quote from Huckabee:

We have to take the weather for what it is. We don’t get to choose it. I just hope that our voters are so committed that it doesn’t affect the fact that they are going to vote, because … it’s a mission that they have to deal with today.

“[M]ission” is a telling turn of phrase.

The question is: Who’s more likely to brave the elements to vote for their man: Evangelicals, driven by religious devotion, or hardened veterans who’ve endured a lot worse?

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Re:Re: Hillary Wins Nevada

“After all, no human being has ever quite gotten the kind of worshipful press he has received in the past three weeks.”

Maybe Hillary Clinton in the past one week. Magazines have been putting a 60-year-old woman on their covers accompanied by the quote: “I found my voice.” Today’s results feel like part of this apologetic burst of sympathy. That the voice she found was a sob has to count against her in the long run.

Also, we knew that she’d secured the Hispanic vote. The black vote was hers to lose, and she lost it. I think that’s a pretty big deal. That, and the fact that the polls did predict something accurately.

And I have a question: if her win was a big deal, to what extent will it be dampened by an Obama win in South Carolina? It does feel kind of impossible to say anything predictive if the playing field is repeatedly flattened.

“After all, no human being has ever quite gotten the kind of worshipful press he has received in the past three weeks.”

Maybe Hillary Clinton in the past one week. Magazines have been putting a 60-year-old woman on their covers accompanied by the quote: “I found my voice.” Today’s results feel like part of this apologetic burst of sympathy. That the voice she found was a sob has to count against her in the long run.

Also, we knew that she’d secured the Hispanic vote. The black vote was hers to lose, and she lost it. I think that’s a pretty big deal. That, and the fact that the polls did predict something accurately.

And I have a question: if her win was a big deal, to what extent will it be dampened by an Obama win in South Carolina? It does feel kind of impossible to say anything predictive if the playing field is repeatedly flattened.

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Re: Hillary Wins Nevada

Abe, I suspect that this result is a big deal — though, to be honest, given the nature of this election, who knows? Here’s the case for it being a big deal.

Given that Obama received the endorsement of a key union, and that Hillary failed in her effort to block caucus meetings inside casinos (which was designed to help that union’s workers participate), her victory suggests she is far from a weak reed in the Democratic party. Obama needs her to be a weak reed so that his vaunted winds of change can blow her down. The fact that he received crucial institutional support from a working-class union and still was unable to prevail has to count for something. After all, no human being has ever quite gotten the kind of worshipful press he has received in the past three weeks.

Abe, I suspect that this result is a big deal — though, to be honest, given the nature of this election, who knows? Here’s the case for it being a big deal.

Given that Obama received the endorsement of a key union, and that Hillary failed in her effort to block caucus meetings inside casinos (which was designed to help that union’s workers participate), her victory suggests she is far from a weak reed in the Democratic party. Obama needs her to be a weak reed so that his vaunted winds of change can blow her down. The fact that he received crucial institutional support from a working-class union and still was unable to prevail has to count for something. After all, no human being has ever quite gotten the kind of worshipful press he has received in the past three weeks.

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NEVADA: Hillary’s Win – Identity’s With Us For a While

The polls almost nailed Hillary’s margin of victory ahead of time, so there’s nothing shocking in her win. It will be interesting to see how Obama handles this second blow to his formerly smooth ride. After losing in New Hampshire he played dirtier than people expected. Insinuating that Hillary was racist was a little too outlandish to earn him anything other than mild disapproval. Hillary didn’t have to do much to look better than Barack. But both want to “move past race.”

However, in Nevada, Obama took the black vote by a ratio of 5-to-1, and Hillary decidedly took the Hispanic vote. So, going into South Carolina (with its large black contingent among Democrats), identity will be evidenced everywhere — except on the tongues of the candidates.

The polls almost nailed Hillary’s margin of victory ahead of time, so there’s nothing shocking in her win. It will be interesting to see how Obama handles this second blow to his formerly smooth ride. After losing in New Hampshire he played dirtier than people expected. Insinuating that Hillary was racist was a little too outlandish to earn him anything other than mild disapproval. Hillary didn’t have to do much to look better than Barack. But both want to “move past race.”

However, in Nevada, Obama took the black vote by a ratio of 5-to-1, and Hillary decidedly took the Hispanic vote. So, going into South Carolina (with its large black contingent among Democrats), identity will be evidenced everywhere — except on the tongues of the candidates.

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Re: Romney Wins Nevada

Abe, it’s hard to imagine Mitt Romney will get much from Nevada, because a) everybody else effectively ceded it to him six months ago; b) as it is a caucus state, participation numbers will be staggeringly low, like 4 or 5 percent of the possible turnout; and c) the state’s 10 percent Mormon population, which, according to Jim Geraghty, has turned out 94 percent for Romney. (Forget Mike Huckabee’s claim on evangelicals; a number like that suggests Romney is this year’s unqualified king of identity politics.) The interesting aspect of all this is that Nevada may take on a far greater degree of significance in the fall, because it went for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 and for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 by small margins, indicating its five electoral votes might be up for grabs in a close election. Given the nature of the electoral map and the probable loss to the GOP of Ohio — which it won in the past two races — the GOP cannot afford to lose even those five Nevada electors.

Abe, it’s hard to imagine Mitt Romney will get much from Nevada, because a) everybody else effectively ceded it to him six months ago; b) as it is a caucus state, participation numbers will be staggeringly low, like 4 or 5 percent of the possible turnout; and c) the state’s 10 percent Mormon population, which, according to Jim Geraghty, has turned out 94 percent for Romney. (Forget Mike Huckabee’s claim on evangelicals; a number like that suggests Romney is this year’s unqualified king of identity politics.) The interesting aspect of all this is that Nevada may take on a far greater degree of significance in the fall, because it went for Bill Clinton in 1992 and 1996 and for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004 by small margins, indicating its five electoral votes might be up for grabs in a close election. Given the nature of the electoral map and the probable loss to the GOP of Ohio — which it won in the past two races — the GOP cannot afford to lose even those five Nevada electors.

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NEVADA: Romney’s Win

On Fox News Fred Barnes just said the Romney win in Nevada would give him no bump in South Carolina because, as we’ve learned from the last few contests, wins don’t build momentum. Fair enough, but we’ve also learned that the last-minute decisions of undecideds are having a huge impact. So, perhaps Barnes is mis-categorizing Romney’s win. Coming only hours (not days) before the South Carolina primary, the victory may affect things more as a last-minute scale-tipper than as a failed momentum-builder, per se.

On Fox News Fred Barnes just said the Romney win in Nevada would give him no bump in South Carolina because, as we’ve learned from the last few contests, wins don’t build momentum. Fair enough, but we’ve also learned that the last-minute decisions of undecideds are having a huge impact. So, perhaps Barnes is mis-categorizing Romney’s win. Coming only hours (not days) before the South Carolina primary, the victory may affect things more as a last-minute scale-tipper than as a failed momentum-builder, per se.

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