Nervous as I am about a 65-point electoral vote swing in a week’s time, I am sanguine. I’m with Gruber and Sullivan and Kozierok and others: Obama will be President on January 20th, and Sarah Palin will be as forgotten as the fourth-runner-up on American Idol last season. Here’s how Obama will win:
Keep issues alive. McCain and Palin are at a structural disadvantage here: where they do have positions on the issues America cares about, they’re on the losing end of public opinion. Obama will lose a culture war, but he’ll win on the issues. But the issues alone will not be enough.
Play the ground game. It’s all about turnout. Money doesn’t seem to be an issue (though McCain got $10M out of the Palin nomination, Obama got nearly as much in response. The big task is GOTV on November 4. Obama’s team has been preparing this in every state since last November, and had to have organizing strength through very late in the primaries. McCain effectively ran his last contested primary six months ago, and he doesn’t have the volunteers, the offices, the phone lists, the SMS numbers, or the days left to put them together. Turnout wins.
Run against the Republican. McCain/Palin are not running as Republicans; they’re running as “mavericks.” The DNC tried to tie McCain specifically to Bush, and that had some impact, but he’s dodging. I think as we get closer to November, the word “Republican” is going to be frequent in Obama ads and completely absent from McCain’s. The strategy is to call McCain what he is and cannot evade: the Republican party nominee. While there’s a chance this may run up against the “one-party rule” resistance of the electorate, the GOP brand is pretty sick, and the Generic Democrat has handily beaten the Generic Republican in every poll for two years.
Let McCain flail. The way that Obama beat the 43-point favorite Clinton was incremental, gradual, and inexorable, as an increasingly desperate Clinton campaign did and said increasingly stupid things. The 3am ad, the Bonsian Airstrip lie, the shots-at-the-bar staging; all rang hollow even with Hillary’s supporters. They drove me away from Clinton. McCain is on the upswing of starting the same process. He’s throwing over all his character, integrity, and honesty to play from the Rove playbook, because that’s what beat him in 2000 and he knows it works. But in doing so he’s losing the admiration and trust of those who admired him primarily for those traits.
Let Palin self-destruct. The Vice Presidential nominee is enjoying her WIle E. Coyote moment of having run off the edge of the cliff, suspended in mid-air. (I know, the Right’s saying exactly the same thing about Obama, but they have their metaphor exactly wrong. Everything bad that happened to Wile E. Coyote was self-inflicted by hunger and greed.) But as a public figure she came with so many deep flaws, from her fundamental ignorance of pressing national issues to the undisclosed teen pregnancy to the looming ethics investigation, that Obama only needs to let nature take its course. The Republicans desperately want to make this an Obama versus Palin referendum, and run out the clock before the scandals catch up with her; Obama should not take the bait. Focus on McCain and the late-night hosts, the National Enquirer, and the Fifth Column inside the GOP will take care of Palin.
Now is the time to court the press. Despite the Nixon-era attitude of the conservatives against the “liberal press,” the fact is that the Washington press corps is McCain’s natural base, and they’ve been covering for him, if not actually rooting for him, since the beginning. They eat his barbecue, they bring him doughnuts, they cover up his vulgar jokes. But that changed with the Palin nomination. Early in the firestorm about Palin’s narrative and qualifications, the GOP strategists must have decided that if they can turn the base (who adore Palin) against the press as being “biased,” then they will actively disbelieve anything the press reveals about her unvetted history. On the one hand, it’s worked brilliantly: social conservatives love to hate the press, and the collective sense of denial has helped Palin through some very tough weeks. But the long-term cost to McCain may be fatal. The press corps is no longer cutting him slack. They’re increasingly using the words “falsehood” and “lie,” two words considered unspeakable in political journalism, to describe McCain’s campaign ads and statements. McCain’s loss is Obama’s opening. After having run his primary campaign in spite of the press corps (who were all over Clinton), Obama has a chance now to soothe the egos wounded by the McCain campaign and retake the press momentum.
Side with the elites. Finally, the riskiest strategy to victory is to zag where McCain has zigged. McCain had been a known, stable quantity to the “village,” and though dubious of his actual conservative credentials, the think tanks, the National Review, the conservative editoralists, and the rest of the Washington Establishment quietly smiled at his primary victory and thought it was time the deserving warrior had his turn, confident that their own positions of power would be safe. Palin changed that. She’s no Potemkin populist like the Bushes, who dressed Texas but were Kennebunkport through and through. She’s the real deal. She doesn’t drink Martinis and go shooting, she just goes shooting. She doesn’t get taken to the lodge in a Hummer limo with tire chains, she drives the snowmobile (excuse me, snowmachine). She is really not elite. And you know what? The elite don’t like her very much. Caught by a live mike, Peggy Noonan called it a “political bullshit narrative“. Frum, Ponnuru, and a lot of the rest of the Conservative brain trust are privately, and sometimes publicly, aghast at what their party and movement now is represented by: a doddering liar and a moose-in-the-headlights arriviste. They have gotten everything they were afraid of in Obama. But Obama is Harvard Law and an actual Senator and has been studying for this job for two years and actually respects the job of governance. They may be saying to themselves that their odds are better being part of Obama’s well-oiled machine than having to clean up McCain and Palin’s messes.
Yes, we’re all waiting for Obama to bounce off the bottom in the electoral college slide. We see it coming, and we see the same climb back he had against Hillary: steady, cool, and inexorable. Chill. He’s got it covered.