Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Why McCain Lost

Published in Fox News' FoxForum:

John McCain could never decide if he wanted to be a winner—or a martyr. He took arbitrary stands (he would prefer, of course, the adjective "principled") on issues that cut against the grain of his party, as well as undercut his potential victory coalition, which always had to include populist Reagan/Hillary Democrats. He opposed drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and denounced those who mentioned Reverend Wright or Barack Obama's middle name. And he supported "comprehensive immigration reform" and "cap and trade" on global warming—liberal positions which were anathema to the GOP faithful, as well as turnoffs to moderate-conservative Democrats. All of these "high-minded" stances garnered McCain favor from newspaper editorial boards and self-declared establishment thought-leaders, but all taken as insults to the Republican base.

And yet when it came time for the general election, environmentalists, the mainstream media, and Hispanics all went solidly for Obama, joined by a sufficient number of swing Democrats, who saw no compelling reason to cross the aisle and vote Republican. In particular, McCain got no "credit," if that's the right word, from good-government types for not bringing up Obama's support for drivers' licenses for illegal aliens--probably the single best populist arrow the Republicans had in their quiver, and yet an arrow that McCain never fired.

To top it all off, McCain voted for the Wall Street bailout last month--once again putting the establishment ahead of the Republican base, putting pundits’ praise ahead of populist swing voters. And so, by the end of the campaign, plenty of activist Republicans had figured out what McCain really thought of them, and acted accordingly.

With apologies to Frank Sinatra, McCain ran the campaign "his way"--and just like the narrator in that famous song, he paid a steep price. Maybe that's what McCain wanted all along. It sure seems like it.

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