The Republican Election Strategy
Here's some decent analysis of the Republican election strategy on MSNBC's "Countdown"; about as good as it gets in the American mainstream media (host Rachel Maddow, by the way, is definitely one to watch).
Both the Republicans and the Democrats will be aiming to do two things in the campaign. First, mobilise their core supporters (their "base") both to vote in numbers and to persuade their neighbours to do the same. Second, win over as many as possible of those voters who consider themselves neither Republican nor Democrats. The Republicans have some work to do on both sides of that strategy.
Irrespective of the recent fall in violence in Iraq and the perception that a corner has been turned there (actually Iraq is still a horror show, but lets put that to one side for a moment), polls show that most Americans made up their minds about the war a long time ago. The US economy, as we know, is in deep trouble. Polls also show that 80 per cent of Americans think their country is going in the wrong direction. And President Bush has spent much of the last two years with approval ratings so low they occasionally exceed the historic depths plumbed by Richard "I am not a crook" Nixon. Winning over non-Republicans could not be more difficult for John McCain at this point in time.
As for mobilising the base, well the choice of hard-right Alaskan governor Sarah Palin was undoubtedly aimed at giving die-hard Republicans something to get passionate about. McCain may be the nominee, but he's not wildly popular amongst the evangelical Christians who have turned out in multitudes to vote for George W. Bush. They're decidedly lukewarm about a man who, unlike Bush, they do not consider one of their own. Palin, by contrast, is a big hit with the Republican hardcore. But how much of a difference can she make? Right-wing Christians are very disappointed with Bush for failing to use his 8 years in office to decisively ban abortion and bring creationism into the classroom. Now Palin or no, John McCain is the still Presidential candidate, and if the christian right is disillusioned even with Bush then I very much doubt that we'll see them turning out to vote for McCain in anything like the numbers we saw in 2000 or 2004.
Recall that their ability to energise their core support was a major factor in the last several Republican election victories. But in the 2006 congressional elections they got soundly beaten, partly because their disillusioned supporters stayed at home and partly because the Democrats were able to both mobilise their own base and reach out to independents by focusing their rhetoric on people's concerns about the economy (the adequacy of their actual policies is another subject for another time). The Democrats have clearly learned the lessons of that campaign, and the circumstances in which most ordinary Americans are living today are such that economic concerns may well seem far more pressing that the "culture wars" of liberal v conservative social values that so excite the Republican party.
Current polls show Obama and McCain neck and neck, but the campaign only starts in earnest now, and a lot can happen in two months. There are Presidential and Vice-Presidential TV debates coming up, and if Obama and his running mate Joe Biden play their cards correctly, they could wipe the floor with their opponents. Obama is clearly much brighter and sharper than McCain, but I suspect that what will really give him the advantage in these contests is his temperament. McCain is known for his propensity for losing it in public (including one vicious verbal assault on his wife), while Obama appears very calm and composed at all times. If McCain starts to look rattled or lost for a convincing answer at any point in the debates, that moment could define the election. If he lost his temper he would probably be sunk. Palin v Biden is trickier. Biden is pure Washington establishment while Palin is a fresh face (at least that's the narrative her handlers will want to stress), and if Biden appears to be patronising her he could do himself and Obama serious damage. But if he's civil and courteous and keeps the debate firmly on policy, then her spikey attempts to paint herself as the scourge of Washington will start to look very silly indeed.
But the major factor, as ever, will be the will of the people and institutions that really run the United States and its historic imperial project: the major corporations, investment banks, and concentrations of socio-economic power which, among other things, own the mass media that will be covering the election. The Bush presidency has been a historic disaster for US power. It is losing its grip on South America, challenged by a resurgent Russia, massively in debt to China, and humiliated in the Middle East by the defiance of Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Iraqi insurgents; the latter of whom fought the greatest military force of all time to a standstill with automatic rifles and rudimentary explosives. And it is still fighting the Afghan war 7 years after it began. In the imperialist euphoria post-9/11 the US ruling class threw everything behind a Bush administration drunk on the idea that the world could be subdued by the might of Washington; that a few punishment beatings meted out to the likes of Saddam, the Taliban, maybe Iran and Syria later on, would provide the necessary example to quickly bring the planet to heel, ushering in a "new American century". It didn't work out. Quite the opposite, in fact, and my suspicion is that when it comes to the crunch, the people and institutions that run the United States will come down strongly in favour of a return to the safety and pragmatism of the Clintonite status-quo, managed by Obama and Biden, over a continuation of the self-defeating recklessness of the Bush era under John McCain.
Its widely assumed that the final result of this election will be close. The Republicans are certainly formidable and utterly cynical campaigners who can make a lot out of what little they have going for them. But personally, I think too much is stacked against them this time. Its foolish to make predictions. But I would not write off the possibility McCain and Palin will be crushed in the polls come election day.