Thursday, March 6, 2008

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail 2008

The whole continuing of internecine fighting in the Democratic party will not, I think, doom them in the fall. But it does represent a major missed opportunity. Ross Douthat explains.

The problem facing the Democrats isn't exactly the one raised by Kevin
and debated here
and here
and here
- the problem of 1968, that is, in which a long and nasty intra-party battle
fatally weakens the eventual Democratic nominee going into the general election.
It won't: There's just too much going for the Democrats this year for the
election not to remain eminently winnable no matter what happens (well, within
reason) between here and the convention. Rather, the problem is that the party
is losing a golden opportunity to try to put the race away early, the way Bill
Clinton more or less did with Bob Dole in 1996 - by using their enormous
fundraising advantage to rebrand John McCain as a Dole-style loser while he's
still struggling to get his money-raising operation up to par. As Patrick
Ruffini suggested
earlier this week, if Obama had finished off Hillary last
night he could have been up with anti-McCain ads all over the country
immediately, forcing the GOP to play defense in places it usually owns all
through the summer. Whereas the longer the race goes on, the less leverage the
Dems' fundraising edge gives them, and the lower the chances that they can make
it get late early for McCain through sheer dollar-power alone.

This is unfortunate. I think the comparison to 1996 is helpful. Like Dole, it shouldn't be too difficult to paint McCain as the crotchety old-man who always suspects that you have stolen his newspaper. But in 1996 the party was mostly unified behind President Clinton. Now the party is in the middle of a power squabble.

When we ask about progressive legislation (a reasonable health-care plan being passed/ action being taken on Iraq etc), the mandate a president gets and how many other Democrats are elected will ultimately matter much more than whether the President is Clinton or Obama. The current paralysis in the party is likely going to make the Democratic victory smaller, and will therefore limit progressive legislation.

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