At its most polished, under Atwater and Rove, there’s a sharkish cunning to Republican strategy. This year we’re not even getting that. McCain’s campaign has been incoherent, desperate, and contradictory.
One day McCain is against inexperience; the next he’s selecting a complete incompetent. One day he’s a centrist who’s going to reach across the aisle; the next he’s pandering to the Christianists. He suspends his campaign to deal with the financial crisis, only to unsuspend it two days later with no help given. He’s against paltry people like community organizers, only he’s for plumbers. He’s for change, though he can’t explain what he’d change. He’s going to cut taxes more and balance the budget. He was completely behind the $700 billion buyout, but reforming health care is “socialist”.
Reporters like McCain because he doesn’t have the filters politicians usually do. But this isn’t straight talk; it’s popping out whatever tomfool notion is currently in his head.
Even in foreign policy he’s out of touch. He doesn’t seem to realize that Maliki’s desire to reduce US troop levels in Iraq matches Obama’s policy, not his own. He talks about exporting Petraeus’s strategy to Afghanistan, without understanding the different situation (notably, no Sunni/Shi`a division) or Petraeus’s own insistence that local conditions be taken into account. He mocks Obama’s willingness to talk to Iran, again despite Petraeus’s calm statement that “you always talk to your enemies”. He claims that he “knows” how to find bin Laden… as Slate points out, if he knows, shouldn’t he have informed his friend the President?
McCain is starting to bristle at comparisons to Bush; but he can’t explain how he’d be any different, and his campaign has descended into pure Rovism, relying on complete bullshit like ACORN.
All in all, it’s been a gift to Obama, who’s run a disciplined campaign with impressive grassroots that already beat a much more formidable rival. Trying to paint Obama as a radical just invites comparisons between the frothy-mouthed McCain and Palin and the cool, sensible Obama.
A lot of pundits are almost giddy over the collapse of conservativism. That’s greatly exaggerated. Rather, what we’re seeing is deep fissures in the Republican coalition, the one that Rove & company intended to produce a permanent majority. Since Nixon, the party has been an alliance of plutocrats and the religious right– with the plutocrats in ultimate control. (The few times that Bush has been willing to defy his own base, note that it’s always in favor of Big Money: on immigration reform, and on the bank buyout.) McCain has dived so far to the right that the business class and the conservative elite are abandoning ship.