Saturday, September 06, 2008

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.

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Anonymous JamieSW said...

If the Dems can't win under these conditions then they have real problems. If the polls are anything to go by, it's clear that on virtually every major issue, from the environment and national health care to the war and the economy, Obama's policies are much closer to the expressed wishes of the electorate than McCain's.

If Obama loses this election, it will not, therefore, be because of his policies, but because of "values", "personality" and "gaffes". These elements of the election process will naturally be emphasised by the media and by the Republican campaign, who know they can't win on policies alone. Still even on this front Obama seems to have the edge. As you say, when it comes to temperament and 'personality', Obama should have enough about him to see off McCain quite comfortably.

If, despite all this, Obama loses, I can only think that the reason would be racism - that is, the unwillingness of some Americans to have a black man, or a "Muslim", in the White House. Hopefully the effect of these attitudes will not be decisive - outside of died-in-the-wool Republican states, which Obama has little chance of winning anyway, I suspect these attitudes are pretty marginal. The one exception to this is the American Jewish population - although most Jews are liberal, the hawkish pro-Israel sector has been at the forefrunt of spreading rumours about Obama being a 'Muslim', about him having links to anti-Semitism, etc. Again, however, Obama has been very aggressive about countering these "smears" and proving his pro-Israel credentials, and polls predict that Obama will gain the large majority of Jewish votes.

So, overall, I know its foolish to make predictions but I'm gonna make one anyway: Obama for the win!

12:09 PM  
Blogger hi0u91e9 said...

i was speaking to two democrats from washington last year, and they said that the point about issues like abortion/gay marriage/creationism etc is not to close them by actually casting a decision on them. In fact with regards to the first two they could be settled once and for all at the supreme court. If anyone was to do this however it would close the issue for good, and it would stop being a potent political weapon for the republicans. if you can keep the issue sort of floating around, occasionally being dealt with at the lower level courts etc then you can maximise its political mileage. The point being to let the issues run and run

If the republicans do end up winning it would be the worst possible outcome for the US imperial project.

This makes me wonder whether actually a McCain victory wouldn't be that bad.

That being said if the US empire really is crumbling then it is likely to be a very ugly scene indeed. Empires don't go quietly.

David, i think you should put something together on what is happening in Bolivia.

There have been some alarming developments in Bolivia recently

Forrest Hylton wonders why Morales does not act against the rebellion

could it have anything to do with the increasing US presence, that was already being reported on in january?

1:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thing that worries me the most is that the polls have never been precise. When democrats win it is usually when the polls indicate a large margin between democrats and republicans. The polls right now however are indicating a very small margin and in some states McCain is leading, plus Sarah Palin is actually bringing a large majority of the female electorate on his side (according to recent polls). This whole presidential race is getting ugly. On the one hand I really don't want a John McCain to be the next US president (let alone a Sarah Palin as VP) but on the other hand, I am wondering, will an Obama presidency really make that much difference? His policies are steering more and more to the right (right now he's just centre right), plus he favors concentrating the GWOT on Pakistan and Afghanistan... I don't really see much difference in the candidates. Just a different face but still with the same political backers (moneywise)....


1:32 AM  
Blogger David Wearing said...

Thanks to each of you for your comments. Some brief responses

Jamie - clearly the Republicans agree with you that their only chance of winning is to keep attention off the issues, and to muddy the debate with as much malicious lying as possible.

Samuel - the idea that the Republicans want to keep these issues unresolved and on the boil doesn't surprise me at all. Question is, how long can they keep that up, milking these people's support but never delivering what they demand?

On Bolivia etc, I'll read what you emailed me if I get a chance. You're right its important. For me its a question of finding the time to cover this and a number of other things I ought to be writing about (e.g. Iraq, climate change, the financial crisis).

Fay - I agree that the Republicans and Democrats are two wings of the business party and that real change is only going to come from mass public action aimed at fundamentally altering the way the US is goverened; not simply the election of a new candidate from the political establishment, like Obama. That said, small differences make for big outcomes when you're talking about something as powerful as the US government. If Gore had won in 2000 Iraq would not have been invaded and around 1,000,000 Iraqis would have lived. That's not trivial.

Palin and McCain are very dangerous characters. More so perhaps than Bush/Cheney. So an Obama victory is important and progressive people should not feel shy about wanting that outcome on election day, provided they're also prepared to spend the 1,000 days between 5 November 2008 and the start of the next Presidential campaign working hard for more progressive victories.

10:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think when it comes down to it, what would be preferable is a multipolar world that isn't as dependent on who the next US president will be. But you're right, small differences do make for big outcomes when it comes to the US.


11:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just got this in from CommonDreams.ord (Craig Brown Executive Director for the whole team):

Dear Friend of,

The whole world is watching.

In just five weeks Americans will wake up to a new president-elect.

Will we vote our fears again, and give John McCain/Sarah Palin, Karl Rove and the neo-cons four more years?

Or . . . will we vote our 'better angels' and elect a young, progressive African-American who offers us 'Change' and 'Hope'?

Last February 10th we held our presidential caucuses here in Maine. In our little coastal town we usually have a caucus turnout of maybe 100 people. This year more than 900 people spent hours on a Sunday afternoon in long lines in an overflowing high school cafeteria.

My wife, Lina Newhouser, was very weak and ill from her long battle with lymphoma - her weight was down to just 85 pounds. But she was amazingly tough and determined. Nothing was going to keep her from making her voice heard that day. She stood in that cramped room for over four hours to stand up for Barack Obama. She was fired up. When she got home, she nailed an Obama sign on the front of our house.

As it turned out, after a lifetime of activism, this would be her last political act.

I know from reading the comments on articles that many of our readers have given up on the Democrats. Some have given up on politics and politicians.

The most cynical have just plain given up.

Many claim that anyone who supports Obama is 'naive.' A 'Kool-Aid drinker.' A 'Democratic hack.' A 'fake progressive.'

Lina and I talked politics - a lot. And I can assure you that we are none of the above.

We first met as young staffers on Barry Commoner's 1980 presidential campaign - a campaign to start the Citizens' Party, a new, progressive third party. We both spent many years in different trenches as community organizers fighting for social change from the ground up. My years on Capitol Hill as chief-of-staff to a progressive Democratic congressman provided a great experience that confirmed for me that our hope for real change doesn't lie in Washington. It doesn't lie with any one, individual politician. Or any political party.

It lies with us.

You and me, and millions of other progressives who believe we can make the world a better place - and are working to make it happen.

Lina lived her life by her favorite Chinese proverb: 'Don't curse the darkness. Light a candle.'

Throughout her years of work and activism, her cancer battle, her tragedies and her politics, Lina never gave up hope. When 'shit happened' she always took the lead in jumping back up to encourage those around her to fight on. At gatherings at our home she always took out her favorite candelabra and urged everyone to light one of many candles with a wish of hope.

Make no mistake. There were lots of issues that Lina disagreed with Obama on: 'Clean coal.' 'The necessary war on Afghanistan.' 'Safe nuclear energy.' 'Unconditional support of Israel.'

Still, Lina believed that Barack Obama is our best hope.

She said: "It will be our job to make him better."

When Lina and I launched 11 years ago our goal was simple: Use the Internet to help build community among progressive Americans by providing a virtual space to share news and ideas.

It's working. Today we have millions of readers around the world.

President Franklin Roosevelt once told a group of activists lobbying him, "I agree with everything you said. Now go out and make me do it."

When President Obama is sworn in next January we at intend to work our hardest to 'make him better' - to 'make him do it.'

It's true, there's no use in having an Obama or a McCain, if voters think that their obligations as a citizen end with the election. So, with regard to the current climate of American Citizenry (especially after all the spontaneous rally's around the country due to the Paulson Bail Out), Obama and Americans in general do have a strong chance of taking back what Bush et. al. took from them (and the rest of the world).


2:08 PM  

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