Thursday, February 14, 2008

The long haul

It's been a bit puzzling to me that certain "conservatives" claim to hate John McCain so much. Limbaugh, Coulter, and the like all get their hate talk going when McCain is mentioned. Fox News disliked McCain and actively promoted Giuliani for President (they branded him "America's Mayor" and required their presenters to use that term whenever referring to Guiliani). Giuliani is a moderate Republican when compared to McCain. McCain's voting record is solidly in the conservative mode. He's anti-choice. His immigration policy is in line with President Bush's. In fact the only legitimate attacks I've seen on the man have been his vote for McCain-Feingold and his anti-torture stance. Both of those items are often mentioned as proof that McCain is some sort of closeted liberal/moderate Republican. It is said that he's too moderate for the party.

We're talking McCain version 2008; not McCain version 2000. Back in 2000 the man did run as a principled conservative with some more moderate to independent views. He did well with that position until the Rove slime machine geared up and killed his ambitions in South Carolina. Since then, McCain has so badly wanted to follow Bush into the presidency that he has capitulated to religious conservatives at Bob Roberts University. He has literally and figuratively embraced Bush. He's embraced the Iraq War and suggested that we could be there for 50 or 100 years. He went to Iowa and flip flopped on ethanol benefits. The only stance he hasn't been willing to compromise, understandably, has been torture!

And yet, there is still this opposition to him and I was left wondering why such animosity? He's done everything possible to win over these blow hards plus he's defeated all challengers at the polls. Shouldn't conservatives be rallying around him by now and, if not, shouldn't they be tossing spitballs at him while praising Huckabee, knowing that they are on the losing end of that fight?

Then it occurred to me yesterday what might be going on here. Democrats are great at the short game, but really poor at the long ball. They tend to sing tunes, while Republicans are playing Wagnerian symphonies. The Republican talk show hosts and guests and indeed the Fox News network are playing a long game strategy. They are taking the voters through a story and playing each note with special feeling in order to rally their listeners and motivate them towards November.

Here's what I think that they are up to: by posing as haters now, by calling McCain a filthy moderate and saying that his conservative credentials are not up to snuff, the wingnuts are hoping to actually sell American on McCain as a moderate. They know full well that McCain is not a moderate. He's proselytized himself to the right wing for 8 years. His tone and his votes have demonstrated that he's swung more conservative than he already was which, for the record, was pretty far to the right. But they also know that such a stance won't sell to America in 2008 (hell, it barely sold to America in 2004 when, with Kerry as the opponent and the war in Iraq in full swing should have been a cakewalk). They knew it wouldn't sell in 2000 either so they had Bush run as a moderate and position Dick Cheney as his VP to make it seem like Bush was more moderate by him appearing to reign Cheney in.

So, now that McCain has felched the right wing of the party, how to they sell him as a moderate to independent Americans? By accusing him time and again of being such. Coulter, Limbaugh, Fox News and the rest are going to keep on harping on McCain as being too soft to be president. How else does one explain Coulter's statement that if McCain got the nomination she'd support Clinton even after McCain had it all but sewn up? No one seriously believes that Coulter is going to do that. She's just trying to lay the ground work for the narrative. See, as the nominating convention gets closer the blow hards on the right will become resigned to the fact that they have their nominee. They will push for a couple of show issues for the platform and then, eventually, embrace McCain as the nominee that "brought the party together". In essence, they'll anoint him and in the process hoping to protect him from the Democratic attacks on his conservative flip flops which are sure to come during the general election. They'll then rally their troops to support McCain in November and those sheep that listen to them will turn out for their candidate.

From the standpoint of these folks it's a winning strategy. They are showing party loyalty by attacking the candidate now in favor of a win in November. If he does win, then they'll take a large part of the credit for favoring party unity and pulling together for the good of the nation. But, what happens if McCain loses in November (as most polls show the election swinging hard to the Democratic nominee no matter who gets the nod)? No big deal as they still win. The wingnuts can then claim that they were right all along and that McCain didn't properly express Republican values and was too moderate.

What can Democrats do about this? Not much. They can have their operatives (I'm not one, by the way) expose it widely and attack it's cynicism. They can also attack the wingnuts as being shamelessly self promotional and therefore self interested. The main candidates and their handlers should probably just ignore this story line and continue to stage the attacks on McCain and his flip flopping swing to the right as they are currently planning on doing. The narrative is really just for ratings and the Republican party base anyhow. It's not going to sway independents in November, which is what the Democrats really need to do.

There is something to be learned from this strategy for Democrats though. While your candidates are busy playing short ball, while they are worrying about winning games in this stage of the playoffs, they should be focusing, like the Republicans, on how to win the series. Sure, winning the playoffs is an important step, but winning the series is the ultimate goal. Therefore both candidates need to begin forming their own narrative, not only of the past 8 years, but also of McCain, of Republicans in general, and most importantly of the future they are going to build for the next 8 years - laying a foundation for prosperity and pride for the next century. That's what I'd be advising the candidates at least - learn how to play long ball. Work together to bring forth an energized electorate that sees the Republicans as the group playing for short term games...and be sly about it.

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