I was on the road again this week, so not much time for a post-election wrap-up from me.  But now that the dust has settled, let me knock out a few thoughts.

1.  Exit polls indicate that the number of self-described liberals in this country and the number of self-described conservatives hasn’t changed hardly at all since the last election, and conservatives hold a 12 percentage point lead (34 to 22).  This is still a center-right country.  Obama would do well to remember that.

2.  You win with your base, and McCain took too long to pick it up.  Now, I know that others (our own contributor, Jim, being one) have said that the base took too long to converge around the candidate, but I have to respectfully disagree; I think that’s entirely backwards.  Conservatives in the Republican party have always looked at McCain with a cocked eye, and they — or, to be honestly inclusive, we — had a tough time with many of his positions.  Our minds weren’t going to be changed overnight because he won the nomination.  That’s not principled.

Conversely, McCain did, in fact, make moves to the right that eventually won over the base, but I don’t think he did it quickly enough.  However, if you win with (or lose without) your base, what about the highly-touted independents that were supposed to make McCain so popular?  The answer is…

3.  …they largely split between the two candidates, which throws out all the conventional wisdom on how to win elections.  It’s been all about the "bell curve", that huge group of voters in the center; neither Left or Right.  In a race between a center-Right candidate and a hard-Left one, the conventional wisdom was that the more centrist candidate would pull in the middle in droves.  That didn’t happen.  Karl Rove, love ‘im or hate ‘im, was right, as Dan McLaughlin noted on Redstate:

Karl Rove’s theory – one he perhaps never explicitly articulated, but which was evident in the approach to multiple elections, votes in Congress, and even international coalitions run by his boss, George W. Bush – was, essentially, that you win with your base. You start with the base, you expand it as much as possible by increasing turnout, and then you work outward until you get past 50% – but you don’t compromise more than necessary to get to that goal.

Standing in opposition to the Rove theory was what one might call the Beltway Pundit theory, since that’s who were the chief proponents of the theory. The Beltway Pundit theory was, in essence, that America has a great untapped middle, a center that resists ideology and partisanship and would respond to a candidate who could present himself as having a base in the middle of the electorate.

Tonight, we had a classic test of those theories. Barack Obama is nothing if not the pure incarnation on the left of the Rovian theory. He ran in the Democratic primaries as the candidate of the ‘Democratic wing of the Democratic Party.’ His record was pure left-wing all the way. He seems to have brought out a large number of new base voters, in particular African-Americans responding to his racial appeals and voting straight-ticket D. As I’ll discuss in a subsequent post, the process of getting to 50.1% for a figure of the left is more complex and involves more concerted efforts at concealment and dissimulation, but the basic elements of the Rovian strategy are all there.

John McCain, by contrast, was the Platonic ideal Beltway Pundit-style candidate, and his defeat by Obama ensures that his like will not win a national nomination any time soon, in either party. McCain spent many years establishing himself as a pragmatic moderate, dissenting ad nauseum and without a consistent unifying principle from GOP orthodoxy; McCain had veered to the center simply whenever he felt that the Republican position was too far. McCain held enough positions that were in synch with the conservative base to make him minimally acceptable, but nobody ever regarded him as a candidate to excite the conservative base.

Yes, this is essentially a restatement of point 2, but where as #2 is looking from the Right, #3 is looking from the center. 

Also keep in mind that the center is where most undecided voters live, some of whom don’t decide who to vote for until they in the voting booth.  Reagan won by sticking to his conservative principles and Obama won on his liberal credentials (spreading the wealth around, socializing health care, anti-war).  It wasn’t the blowout it should have been, given the perfect storm of an unpopular President, and unpopular war and a tanking economy, but a win is a win.

UPDATE:  John Hawkins concurs:  Top 7 Reasons Why the GOP Can’t Build a Political Party Around Moderates.

4.  McCain was hoist on his own petard; McCain/Feingold.  On election night, you could almost hear, in the back of your head, a voice-over saying, "This election brought to you by…campaign finance reform."  Another element of the perfect storm for Obama was the fact that he reneged on his promise to stick to public financing and hugely outspent McCain (yet still only managed an average victory).  This unconstitutional (in my humble opinion) program restricts free political speech, arguably what the First Amendment is precisely about.  McCain/Feingold is dead, for all intents and purposes.  At least it’s now irrelevant. 


I still respect McCain as a politician and a bridge-builder, and I believe he would have made a far better President than the one we’re going to get.  But cheer up, Republicans.  At least Obama is going to pay for your gas and your mortgage.

Filed under: ConservativeDemocratsGovernmentLiberalPoliticsRepublicans

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