What went wrong with McCain? Nearly everything. But mostly, he ran an OK GOP campaign for 1952, 1968, 1980... but not 2008. A Cold-War candidacy in the age of Google?
Let's put aside for a moment the phenomenon of Obama, his eloquence, equanimity, organizing skills. McCain was old-time religion in the era of super-churches, a cold warrior when non-state actors are the biggest variables, a deregulator when even Randian Alan Greenspan questioned market fundamentalism. He always seemed to be Mel Gibson in Forever Young, a 1940s flyboy transported to and stumbling around in the 1990s.
He simply ran plays from the Grand OLD Party's playbook when, as Obama was doing on the other side, it was essential to call audibles given the context of Bush, Katrina, the credit crisis.
First, he had nothing to say about the economic meltdown other than he'd a) cut earmarks (under .005% of the federal budget), b) balance the budget by the end of his first term (which no one believed and, in any event, was not very Keynsian when stimuli were needed), and c) continue Bush's Gilded Age tax policies. Amazing. Bushonomics produced one-third the job creation of Clinton -- and has helped to create the current recession -- yet McCain tethered himself to that mast. Going-down-with-the-ship may seem noble for the scion of admirals but it's bad economics and worse politics.
Second, instead of talking about real problems, he resorted to a standard fear-and-smear campaign, more McCarthy than Maverick. Dean discusses how he'd have been better off running as the McCain of 2000 than the one who daily resorted to guilt-by-ancient-association -- palling around with terrorists, PLO spokesmen, socialists. But none of that had real traction when the closest thing definitionally to a socialist was Hank Paulson and voters were more afraid of their bills than Bill Ayers, more worried about their 401k's than the 1960's
Third, he pegged his campaign to his base, not a broader America. Hence his pick of Palin, not Tom Ridge or even Jope Lieberman, and his ardor for military force over diplomacy. His strategy of 50% plus one worked, barely, for Rove-Bush but proved a loser in 2008.
Fourth, he just reeked of being an old-time pol, incessantly using the default phrase "my friends" and always promising... promising that Obama would be a horror show, promising that he knew how to balance the budget, find bin Laden, grow jobs, win wars. A chicken in every pot and bin Laden in some cave. All the time Obama was not merely predicting, which anyone can do without rebuttal because you can't disprove a hypothetical, but analyzing what was wrong now.
Last, McCain raised money based largely on the model of big hitters and big bundlers and big events...while Obama was harnessing the Internet to attract 3 million donors averaging something like $86 each. Also, not a good time for a nominee to note that he doesn't really understand or use computers.
In this contest between the past and the future, between a practitioner of the old school of politics and a thoroughly 21st guy, you don't need a poll of polls to sense accurately what's going to happen Tuesday.
7 Days in America, Interview with Howard Dean, November 1, 2008
GREEN: How did your 50-state strategy contribute to Obama's similar strategy?
DEAN: First of all, I think that it obviously helped enormously during the '06 races. We won races that were not on the radar screen in an awful lot of places, and the reason we won races is because we had good staff in states like Kansas and Minnesota, which was used by the local committees to win races. So that clearly had an effect. Now, with the Obama race, what we discovered in Barack Obama was a like-minded guy who wanted to bring America together, and the way you do that is ask everybody for their vote and include everybody after they vote for you. Or, after they didn't vote for you, which is something that we didn't see in the Bush administration. In order to do that, you've got to be in every state. Barack Obama's campaign has a campaign office in Utah, which is the most Republican state in America. I think that's great because that means that the people in Utah are going to be included if he should win on Tuesday, and they have to be, in order to rebuild America from this disaster that we've had for the last eight years.
GREEN: McCain/Palin at this 11th hour are warning against one-party control of the federal government, using Obama-Reid-Pelosi as a kind of Holloween hobgoblin. Can this work?
DEAN: What you've got here is a party that did have one-party government for six years, and they were a disaster. They didn't do anything right: they couldn't balance the budget, they messed up Katrina, they got us into a war.... So then, you had two years of divided government, when we took back the House and the Senate, and what did the Republicans do? They used their blocking minority in the Senate - and they said this - to make the Democrats look bad. Well, if that's what you're going to do with divided party rule, then you shouldn't have it. So what my pitch is, look, give us a chance. We've had one-party rule on the Republican side and it was awful. And now, give us a chance. You know, there's an election with a third of the Senate up for election two years from now, so if we don't do what you want, you can get rid of us. But give us a chance to rebuild America.
GREEN: If McCain had run in 2008 more like the independent-moderate maverick of 2000, would he have been more competitive?
DEAN: Yes, I do, and I'll tell you why. First of all, I think someone running from the far right is not particularly attractive. But the real John McCain, I've concluded after watching him for all these years, is the John McCain of 2000, not the John McCain of 2008. I think an awful lot of supporters of John McCain in 2000 will not vote for him in 2008. And I don't even think he's comfortable doing what he's doing, and that comes out in the campaign appearances: he just doesn't appear to be comfortable, because it's not who he is. I think it was a terrible mistake that was made because the disciples of Karl Rove and George Bush are running the campaign. What hat they've done is to poison the American political well, and unfortunately I think that John McCain has been the victim of that poisoning.
GREEN: After all the kvetching about Jews and Obama, what do you think of polls now predicting that while Kerry won 77% of the Jewish vote in 2004, Obama is on track to get 75%?
DEAN: That is not the least bit surprising. You know, I'll tell you, as someone who has "married into the tribe," as they say...the reason that American Jews vote for Democrats has nothing to do with Israel. It has everything to do with what makes a Jew in America. These are folks who emigrated from lands where most of the time they were persecuted - I'm not talking just about the people who came over because of Hitler, I'm talking about the people who came over before that because of pogroms in the Ukraine, or Russia. They have such a community-based view of what we owe each other as people; this is a very community-minded group, and that's why they vote Democratic. And the Republicans, always, every year, [say] "Oh my God, the Democrats aren't going to get the Jewish vote because of Israel!" First of all, the Democrats are just as pro-Israel as the Republicans are. But secondly, the Democratic values are core values in the Jewish community, and that is why we always end up with between 70% and 80% of the Jewish vote.
7 Days in America w/ Huffington, Conason & Green, November 1, 2008
GREEN: What did you think of Rachel Maddow's "a-ha!" moment in her Obama interview this week when he seemed to say that he doesn't like to frontally attack conservatives because he wants their votes, implying he may truly try to be a post-partisan, non-ideological president?
JOE CONASON: Well, I think it's going to depend on what kind of majority he gets. If he has a big Democratic majority in both houses, there will be less need to make deals with Republicans because there will be a lot fewer of them to deal with. And I think he's sort of talked out of both sides of his mouth about this; I mean...he often talks about the failure of Republican ideology, that this is an ideology - particularly on economic terms - that needs to be scrapped.
GREEN: There aren't many variables left, but one is the comparative "ground games" of both campaigns. How significant might Obama's 1.3 million volunteers be in getting out the vote -- a couple of points even?
ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: I think it's going to be significant. I couldn't say, maybe Joe can, whether it's going to be one or three percent.... But the incredible ground game, compared to McCain's practically nonexistent ground game, combined with the incredible enthusiasm [of volunteers] have and are spreading around them, is definitely going to have a significant impact, whether or not it's not reflected in the polls right now.
GREEN: We just heard from Dean about his 50 state strategy. One analyst interestingly said that Goldwater was to Reagan as Dean is to Obama, the forerunner who set the table for later success. Do you agree?
CONASON: Definitely. I mean, look, Howard Dean learned something from his own experience in 2004, which I think was almost totally unexpected by him, as well as by everyone else, which was that there was a nascent, or dormant, progressive majority in the country that could be mobilized. Certainly Obama's campaign has grown that, and Dean, as Chairman of the party, has facilitated that. I wrote two years ago that he deserved tremendous credit for the victory in the midterm election, because of the 50-state strategy. This idea that you go where the Republicans least expect you to go, and keep them on the defensive, make them play in their own backyard rather than trying to make incursions in your space -- I mean, it's almost an obvious strategy, but a lot of Democrats resisted it.
GREEN: Crystal ball time- national percentage on Tuesday?
CONASON: Obama 51 or 52, and McCain 47 or something like that.
HUFFINGTON: Obama 51.1 and McCain 45.6 -- and in electoral votes, Obama 318 and McCain 220. The composition of the Senate, Republicans 40, Democrats 58, with Lieberman and Sanders doing whatever they want to do. GREEN: It says something big about your personality that you figured it out to the decimal. HUFFINGTON: (Laughs) Exactly, it tells you everything you want to know about my personality.
GREEN: Chance that Hillary Clinton runs for president in in 2016?
CONASON: I think that by then she'll be the Senate Majority Leader, and will not want to leave the Senate.
GREEN: Likeliest GOP aspirants in 2012, should Obama win?
HUFFINGTON: Well, Sarah Palin is definitely going to be in the mix. And I have a feeling that Mitt Romney will be back, because I'm sure many Republicans are now looking at him, and looking at the economy, and thinking, "Hm, we might have done better with him." And various governors: certainly [the governors of] Louisiana and Minnesota. Also Mike Huckabee, you know, he's doing a good job with his TV show. He's actually a lot more pleasant. I did a debate with him recently and he's a very good speaker, probably the best they have. And he's building the base.
GREEN: What if McCain could today do a do-over for VP?
CONASON: Oh, he would have picked Romney, no question. I don't know whether that would have done him a lot of good, but he would've had somebody who could go out there and articulate their point of view about the economy, and have something to say about health care other than trying to promote the ridiculous program they have now.
Follow Mark Green on Twitter: www.twitter.com/markjgreen