It probably wouldn’t have made much difference but Sen. John McCain’s chances might have improved somewhat had he focused almost exclusively on the theme of two of his recent national ads — Sen. Barack Obama’s lack of experience — and forgone the negativism that in the end only served to energize the opposition.
It would be difficult for any Republican to be competitive in the current atmosphere of impending economic doom and a GOP controlled White House that has by every impartial estimate fostered one disaster after another from Iraq to New Orleans. But if there had been a chance to save the party from what more and more is looking like its worst outcome at all levels since 1964, it did not rest in a barrage of scurrilous accusations alleging Obama associations with former domestic terrorists and Muslim extremism.
McCain’s advisors have squandered whatever value Sarah Palin brought to the ticket by assigning her the job of attack dog rather than using her drive, executive experience — as slight as it may be, humor and middle class motherhood to attract a large number of women, both Republican and Democrat, who have come to believe they have been "dissed" by both parties. Those who disparage her ability to think on her feet should know that much of the speech she is most praised for at the Republican National Convention she was forced to "wing" it because the teleprompters went down early on and stayed that way.
The polls are now showing that Palin, who gave McCain’s candidacy a boost with that acceptance address, has become an object of derision and a drag on his hopes. That didn’t have to be the case had she been properly managed. The similarity between her lack of preparedness for running the country and Obama’s should have been emphasized. The senator from Illinois, after all, spent only about 143 days as a federal lawmaker before launching a presidential campaign. His tenure in the Illinois legislature was distinguished by the number of times he voted present on key issues, apparently a record.
These are legitimate concerns that early on kept the race close. But somehow the tendency toward the darker side of politics took over in what looked like increasing desperation. That smell of loser fear has oozed from every pore of the Republican campaign and has been exploited by the other side with the aide of a national media clearly entranced with the historic dimensions of the Obama possibility and a fund raising ability never before seen in politics.
Without an event completely outside McCain’s control, what is likely to be the result of this?
Looking at both the popular and the more important electoral vote at this juncture, one must conclude that not only will Obama win, he will do so with such force as to dramatically realign the Congress and provide his party and himself with the votes to do anything they want — a monopoly of power that hasn’t existed in recent times. It, of course, remains to be seen how good this might be for the nation.
Certainly, the opportunity to head off a crisis or provide coherent, productive lawmaking will be enhanced. But absolute power can be a dangerous thing and the last time it existed to such a degree, 1965, the party out of power, the Republicans, made historic gains in the mid-term elections two years later.
It might be unfair to blame President Bush and by extension John McCain for everything that has gone wrong. But that is the price Republicans can’t escape for controlling the White House when the roof fell in.
How long this party will have to pay for the mistakes Bush made and those he didn’t but for which he must assume responsibility by just being there will be the subject of considerable analysis once this is election is over. The fickleness of politics makes that difficult to determine.
(E-mail Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan(at)aol.com.)