5 Reasons Why McCain has lost
[Photo: I ask Sen. McCain what he would do to
transform America's image around the world.
He knocks it out of the park...in June 2008.
But since then...]
Well with just over a week to go, it is clear that Barack Obama will be the next President of the United States - barring some YouTube viral video involving Obama caught in some unspeakable act.
The key question I will explore in this posting is:
Was it ever possible for John McCain to win the White House this year?
And if so, what did he need to do to succeed?
First of all, it was theoretically possible but highly unlikely. The economic catastrophe of the past month was merely the last straw after eight years of the Bush Administration and the most unpopular President since Richard Nixon. So the top priority for the McCain campaign was to never sound, look or imply that he would be the 'third Bush term' as the Obama campaign so cleverly labelled a McCain Presidency. This he failed to do. The Obama ads using McCain's own words that he supported the President 90% of the time were devestating.
Secondly, he needed to energize the Republican base while targeting the independent/swing voter like a laser. It was a balancing act that an engineer would have trouble calibrating. In McCain's case his choice of Sarah Palin did half the job, but the full job needed to be done. Everytime she opened her mouth she lost thousands of independent voters as they realized she was not qualified to be Vice President, let alone President. In fact, it was doubly awkward for McCain because she continues to get more coverage than he does. This is never a good idea.
Thirdly, he had to frame the issue as "which leader can protect Americans in troubled times?" Implied in that ballot question are two themes - "secure our family and our country's financial future" and "secure America in a dangerous world". Did he accomplish those? No. His self-confessed "I know nothing about economics" pretty well ensured that he was not going to be taken seriously when the economic tsunami hit in September. [His response to the crisis was highly questionable to say the least. He suspended his campaign, stiffed Letterman (the worst sin of all?) flew the next morning to Washington - flew out without a deal and had trouble finding credible ground. Obama stayed cool, worked to get a better deal for 'Main Street' and was able to explain in layman's language what happened to cause such a calamity.]
Although Obama is no economist either, he knew that people don't expect you to be one - they just want to feel that you have a plan to deal with it. The now-tiresome 'Joe the Plumber' theme of McCain-Palin has got some traction, but the fact that Joe was a fraud, took a lot of the potential out of that effort to paint Obama as a socialistic income-distributor.
Fourthly, his tone was no longer Presidential, while Obama's became increasingly so. It was most apparent in the last debate, where McCain constantly rolled his eyeballs, sneeringly debunked Obama's points, while Obama responded with a dazzling smile and a high road, cool tone.
Finally, John McCain needed to take the issue of age off the table, and he didn't. Reagan did it masterfully in the second debate against Walter Mondale in 1984:
With Sen. McCain's increasingly angry and volatile attacks on Obama, it raised the spectre again that he is too old for the job. Once that question took hold, the Palin 'suitability-for-the-Oval Office' issue rocketed to the top of voters' minds.
So, John, we hardly knew ye'! You had to be in a very targeted and disciplined, narrow channel, and you weren't able to do it. To give you your due, you had overwhelming odds against you. You worked harder than any candidate half your age, but the tide has gone out, and it has left you standing on the shore.
On a lighter note...
Humor played a huge role in this campaign - particularly Tina Fey's channeling Sarah Palin - which was devastatingly funny (and possibly devastatingly politically). Saturday Night Live neatly captured the two huge burdens that McCain is carrying in this election: