Monday, October 27, 2008

Where McCain and the Republican Party now stand

This election has been a long road for me. Even though I left the Republican Party in the 1992 election, as the nominating season got underway in 2007 I was hopeful that there was at least one Republican candidate I could count on…possibly even two. I regretfully have to state…the Republican Party has definitely left me behind. I have never been so disappointed in people…Mitt Romney and John McCain in particular.

Last year as the political campaigns got under way I must admit to being particularly taken by Mitt Romney, former Governor of Massachusetts. I grew up in Michigan and was a big fan of Romney’s father…George Romney…and his mother…Lenore. I got the opportunity to work with George Romney in Washington, D. C. when he was the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. I had and have a great deal of respect for the elder Romney and believe that he always had his heart and mind in the right place.

I thought Mitt would be like his father and his life story indicated that this might be true. He went from one success to another, Bain & Company and Bain Capital, the Winter Olympics, and his term as governor of Massachusetts. He seemed open minded and responsive to situations with strong moral character. He seemed to be a lot like his father. Thus, I supported him financially, as well as emotionally.

And, then he began his campaign. I could not have been more disappointed as I heard him in the early stages of the campaign…especially in Iowa. He seemed to be a different person, perhaps because he did not believe what he was saying…or perhaps because he had accepted views that he was just learning. Whatever, he was nothing like the strong pragmatic individual I had seen earlier, a person who had a firm moral structure within him. In addition, he was nothing like his father!

Let me digress here for a minute. In the last quarter of the twentieth century one of the major beliefs held within the Republican Party was that a person who wanted to receive the nomination to run for President at the head of the Republican Party had to move sharply toward the political right in the primaries before moving back to the center of the political spectrum for the general election.

Romney did this to an extreme. In Iowa, he didn’t sound anything like the person who had been Governor of Massachusetts. And then there was the Michael Hucklebee threat. Not only did Romney feel that he needed to move to the political right, because of Hucklebee, he believed he had to sound like a Christian fundamentalist! Adding to this was the fact that Romney, being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, being a Mormon, was a member of a religious body that was greatly distrusted by many of the evangelical Christians he was trying to attract. He even claimed Jesus Christ as his personal Lord and Savior and gave a ‘defining’ speech to lay out his religious beliefs. Romney sounded more and more like he really didn’t have any fundamental personal beliefs!

Romney lost the Iowa caucuses.

Worse than that…because of his pandering in Iowa he lost New Hampshire! At one time, Romney was well ahead of his competitors in New Hampshire. He was from neighboring Massachusetts and people in New Hampshire knew of him and liked him because of what he had done in Massachusetts.

And, at one time John McCain trailed Romney in New Hampshire polls by double digits and this was amazing because people in New Hampshire had always really liked McCain. But, McCain was basically ‘out-of-the-race’ because of his poor organization and the strained financial condition of his campaign. It seemed as McCain’s last try for the Presidency was dead on arrival.
Romney gave McCain his life back. Because of his pandering in Iowa, the people of New Hampshire turned against Romney. McCain re-organized and won the primary. McCain was back in business although still weak.

But, the other Republican candidates went on to self-destruct. Romney became less and less credible. Rudolph Giuliani followed a dreadful strategy which focused on Florida. And, in the end, the only one left standing was John McCain…the winner by default. A winner who was not trusted by the right-wing side of the Republican Party…who, at best, was received less-than-warmly by the evangelical Christian Right. McCain became the nominee of the Republican Party with only limited enthusiasm from the base of the party.

In order to explain the rest of this story let me just state up front that I believe that John McCain is one of the worst organizers I have ever seen at this high a level of ambition. The unfolding tale of his campaign is one of continual decisions that were questionable at their best and disastrous at their worst. But, the saddest part of this whole saga is that John McCain lost his direction and, in the process, lost his honor.

It seems to me that early on his campaign decided two things. First, McCain’s campaign managers believed that John McCain was loved by the center of the political spectrum for being a maverick and an independent thinker and the center would stay with him…especially if he were running against an extreme liberal. Second, his managers believed that it was important to command and energize the right side of the Republican Party, the side that was so lukewarm to McCain. The answer, they believed, was the choice of candidate for vice president…that person had to be someone of the political right that also appealed to the evangelical base. Furthermore, it would not hurt if that person were a woman…given that Hilary Clinton was not in the race anymore.

However, two things happened. First, the choice of the candidate for Vice President did fire up the right side of the Republican Party and its religious base, but, in so doing this individual over shadowed the candidate for President and dominated the news. Even worse, the vice presidential candidate seemed to drive away the independents and the people of the center that was the natural constituency of McCain, himself.

Here is where McCain’s political handlers hit the panic button. The choice of a vice presidential candidate held the political base of the Republican Party; but McCain was not supposed to lose his base in the process. Only half the plan was working.

The subsequent efforts of the McCain team represented a desperate effort to re-capture the center. And, how was this to be done? Demonize the Democratic candidate so that the center of the political spectrum would once again return to its preferred candidate…John McCain. This is the only way one can explain all the efforts the campaign to target Obama as a friend of terrorists, a socialist, a tax-and-spend liberal.

The problem was that the efforts to demonize the Democratic candidate didn’t work. In fact, if anything these efforts had the opposite effect and John McCain was now seen as a person who sold out to his right leaning handlers and had given up his honor and his dignity. He was not what we thought he was.

The right hand side of the Republican Party has come to dominate not only the primary season of the Party but also the Party in the general election. Unfortunately, it has swallowed up two men, who, in the past, seemed to be decent and capable individuals. It will continue to do this unless the Party loses badly in this election. But, more on this in another post.

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