Friday, February 08, 2008

A friend writes

My liberal friend, the brilliant Prof Jimmy, responds to my previous post.

Come on Joe. You really think the Dems are afraid of McCain? Sure, Clinton wouldn't beat him by nearly as much as Obama would, but she would still beat him. He is the least objectionable to the collective factions that make up the Republican base, but he is not going to turn out the vote. Dems are going to turn out in huge numbers, especially if it's Obama. Look at the numbers of voters showing up for the Dem primaries. The Dems are going to win. The main hope for you guys should be that Clinton is the next Prez: you can use your hatred of her to begin reuniting your party.

I agree with what you say about the Dem convention. It certainly looks like the superdelegates could decide it, which is awful. Clinton has the establishment behind her, and has to be the favorite if it comes to that.


I will take current GOP troubles as read (or, perhaps, red). The electoral legacy of W's administration may be its ability to eke out 52-48, 51-49, or (in the case of Florida and Ohio) 50.5-49.5 percent victories over Kerry in the battleground states. Karl Rove ran rings around Bob Shrum by assuming the independent vote would eventually split 50-50, then plowing every last dollar into base turn-out. However, the fragility of that victory was underscored in 2006, when the GOP lost both houses, the Senate in supposedly red states like Virginia, Montana, and Missouri; and the House by way of nearly entire GOP delegations pushed out in Indiana and Connecticut, plus enough conservative Dem successes in the South. There is a tipping point in American politics in which an entire slew of 51%-49% victories become 49%-51% defeats. This happened at the Congressional level in '06; it may well continue on this year, in the above states, plus (as I've written) Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, New Mexico, and Iowa.

Before the 2006 mid-terms, the task for the eventual 2008 Dem nominee was simple: win every state Kerry carried, plus either Florida or Ohio. Afterward, who knew? Run strong in the Union slave states, run strong along the Mississippi from the Mason-Dixon southward, pick off a few Mountain states--and why not a landslide? And, with McCain becoming the nominee, precisely one of those states moves into the strong GOP column: Arizona.

Add to that the relative enthusiasm of the Dems vis-a-vis the GOP, and the deal seems sealed.

But. Consider the following:

1. The Dems are afraid of McCain. Some are straightforward enough to admit it, Bob Beckel for one. Some inadvertantly reveal it, like the Kossack who floated the rumor of a McCain-Huckabee ticket (snort) or McCain-Romney (based on the rumor of a silent deal between the two, which isn't true because, at this point, McCain wouldn't need to deal with anyone that way). They may be saving the better oppo for the summer, but right now they sound almost silly: George Bush's third-term. McCain missed X number of votes. 100-year war. Blah blah blah. Are the Dems the odd-on favorite? Sure, on balance, especially with Obama. But a McCain as presumptive nominee on February 7th is not what the Dems wanted.

A McCain victory would be an upside-down version of what W accomplished: carrying a majority of independents and cutting into enough Dems who see his way on the war, while hoping enough conservatives show up. Not an easy task, but doable, and easier by far than how the math would have broken for either Romney or Huckabee.

2. As for the Dems themselves, we are entering three areas of the unknown:

*Brokered convention.

*First African-American nominee, potentially.

The first is not as likely as I thought yesterday. At this moment, both Obama and Hillary have about 900 delegates apiece. If either of them wins 55 percent of all remaining contested delegates, he or she would have to win 40 percent of superdelegates to go over the top before the convention. This is completely doable by either of them. Maybe, maybe not--and if not, who knows what happens at the first brokered convention in real time, even a second ballot? How does it affect the Dems if they go to a second ballot with state-by-state results read off while cameras train on Hillary and Obama in their hotel rooms? Thing is, nobody knows.

Now suppose Obama is the nominee. First African-American. It helps that he is a Democrat. Had Colin Powell run in 1996 (which, in retrospect, he should have), we would have been treated to a run-down of his policies and accomplishments. If Obama is the nominee, we will be lectured non-stop about whether we have the "courage" and "maturity" to vote for an African-American. Now, it is true (and a little bit shameful) that, in this scenario, McCain will become the '86 Boston Celtics and stand as the choice of blatant racists. And Obama will carry 90% of the black vote, which a Dem nominee would carry anyway.

Beyond that voting pattern--what? The Dems nominated a Catholic in 1928--Al Smith--and found anti-papist sentiment more virulent than they had suspected; even New Yorkers who had voted for him to be Governor couldn't bring themselves to vote for him as President--he lost in his home state, while the down-ballot, Democratic, Protestant candidate for Governor (FDR) cruised to victory. Thirty-two years later, Democrats with memories of Smith's debacle blanched at nominating another Catholic, but Kennedy won the heavily Protestant West Virginia primary, made his Houston speech, clobbered Nixon in their first debate, and became President. (It's likely the Mormons will have to travel a similar path, but that's another conversation.) Jesse Jackson, as the Dem nominee, would have lost all 50 states to Bush 41 (and it's instructive to remember the 1988 Jackson boomlet, the one that lasted the week between the Michigan primary, which Jackson won, and the New York Primary, in which Democratic Catholics and Jews showed up in legions to vote against him). Really: how would an African-American candidate fair on a national general election? It's an interesting question, because, really, nobody knows.

*Finally, we have Hillary and Bill Clinton. Now, ponder this: since the 1994 midterms, one or both of them have faced a total of eight enormous challenges: the 1995 government shutdown, the 1996 Presidential re-election run, the 1997 Thompson committee on campaign finance irregularities, the early 1998 Lewinsky allegations, the 1998 midterms, the 1998-99 impeachment process, Hillary's 2000 Senate run, the 2001 Whitewater perjury rap, and Hillary's 2006 re-election run. In seven of eight, Bill or Hillary or both have emerged not only victorious--usually smashingly so--but emboldened. In the eighth (Whitewater), Bill was able to finesse a meaningless suspension of his Arkansas law license and manage to have the news buried on W's inaguration day and spin the event into evidence of his persecution. (I think I could actually like the rascal if not for his self-pity.) My point here is that, outside of the horror show that is their marriage, neither Clinton has actually lost anything in a dozen years. I have an inkling they've forgotten the feeling. Faced with the prospect an Obama within, say, 200 delegates of wrapping up the nomination (and the Maryland-Delaware-DC primaries will tell a lot), will Hillary simply take Howard Dean's marching orders, shrug her shoulders, and return to the Senate, where she can mark up defense appropriation bills for the next 20 years? Or will the Clintons go nuclear, pull out every stop, sink to any level, destroy whom they must in order to return to the White House? And if they go for option 2, what effect will it have on the party if they succeed? What effect if they fail? Once again, we just don't know.

In terms you would appreciate, Jimmy, the Dems at present are holding wired aces, pre-flop. But a lot of cards are still to be turned over. Coming out of the convention in 1988, Mike Dukakis had a 17-point lead. Four years later, at this point in the calendar, Bill Clinton was running third, behind Perot and Bush. And the GOP has put itself in the best shape possible by going to McCain, and going early.

1 comment:

jimmy said...

I agree that the GOP is in the best shape possible. Huckabee has to make you smile though. As for Shrum, I never liked that guy. And who is Beckel? I still think McCain is toast, especially if he has to face Obama.

I saw Astro Girl in the hall today. I hope her online teaching adventures are working themselves out. According the listserv, they are. Get back to work grading papers you lazy blogger.