A healthy debate rages over all modes of communication now and for days to come as to whether Sarah Palin is good or bad for America, an authentic conservative voice or a cynical political device, the second coming of Margaret Thatcher or an unwelcome second helping of Dan Quayle. But no Reasonable Mind disputes the fact that this campaign is fundamentally changed by the feisty young (I can say that because she’s younger than me) woman from the Last Frontier.
It would be disingenuous of me to say that I’m not interested in spouting on about Palin’s virtues — if I had a “Weird Science” computer, the only thing I’d remove before pushing the go button is the NRA membership. Everything else leaves me swooning in right-wing bliss. But the Internet is polluted with bombast from both sides of the aisle these days, and I’m sure I have nothing interesting to add to that.
What I am interested in doing (and I’m disappointed in Granulous, who is wallowing in a self-indulgent Ron Paul funk right now and ignoring his duties as Love Boat cruise director here) is teeing up a discussion around the handicapping of the election from here in. Here are my thoughts on where we stand post-conventions, what I think the election will come down to, and, fine, what I think the outcome will be. This isn’t a clever topic, but can we really sit around twiddling our thumbs when the most interesting election since Kennedy-Nixon is right in front of us?
– I really thought McCain would play it safe with Romney or Pawlenty, because I actually believed pre-conventions that this election would be a nailbiter without a wild card. Obama had been unable to seal the deal and open up the kind of lead a Democrat would normally need during the summer to hold on in the stretch. Voters pretty reliably list to the right as Election Day approaches, and polls usually don’t capture turnout trends properly, so the Dems need 10 points in August to win by 3 in November. But Granulous, and the actual performance of the also-rans at the RNC, convinced me that this was wrong. McCain/Stiff (of your choice) was going to come in a respectable 2nd, an outcome McCain had no interest in. His instincts were good about that, and about who to go after to change the game.
– The pick was a miraculous “two birder” for McCain, somehow allowing him to satisfy the base he’s been forced to lean toward, while giving him adequate coupons to move himself back toward the “maverick center” where he naturally resides. Somehow, against impossible odds two weeks ago, the Republican party is energized, unified, and clapping for things they really don’t like. Whooda thunkit?
– Women, in my limited experience, have not reacted predictably to Palin. Asking around my New York but otherwise very diverse office, I’m finding reactions coming in all over the map, from ecstasy to disgust. I’ve also found lots of women in the middle — Palin’s performance did not convince them to vote for McCain, but it did “put them in play”. They are paying attention now, and could be swayed if Palin can take the ball in from the red zone in the Biden debate (and McCain doesn’t piss them off).
– Obama has played his personal hand the best he possibly could have under these circumstances. He has no control over the rabid left blogosphere, which has behaved in manner too perfect to comprehend for the Republicans. It must have driven him crazy to sit there and watch those supporters create the perfect atmosphere for Sarah Palin to outperform in. Nevertheless, he and Biden stepped forward and denounced the unconscionable attacks on Palin’s family, and that statesmanship helped them contain the damage that the anti-media backlash could have caused them. As a result, we emerge from the conventions in a virtual dead heat (fading for the poll bias), with the debating stakes higher than anyone could have imagined.
– I expect Obama and McCain to battle to a draw within rounding. Obama is smarter, McCain is a better debater but no longer really benefits as much from low expectations, the panels are likely to tilt the questions somewhat in Obama’s favor, and frankly, all eyes are now focused on the Palin/Biden showdown.
– Biden is in a hell of a difficult spot, contrary to the initial talking-head prognosis of Biden clobbering the foreign-policy-light Palin. We now know how capable this woman is on stage in a tight spot — the teleprompter was broken for her speech. By all accounts she’s a quick study, but William Buckley himself wouldn’t be able to go from zero to 60 in one month. But offsetting this knowledge deficit is the fact that if Biden decides to be Biden, he’s going to lose the PR war no matter what comes out of his mouth. This is a guy who doesn’t know when he’s saying something that won’t play in 2008. He already leaked out one brain fart when he said, when asked for contrasts between himself and Palin, that “she’s good looking”. Was this offered innocuously? Of course. Can he get away with something cutesy and a tad condescending like that in this debate? No way. If Biden comes away from that debate with a draw, he will have walked a fine line he has rarely managed to stay on in his rhetorical career. I’ve got to believe a Biden bungle is more likely than a Palin “potatoe”.
– When I look at the electoral map on Realclearpolitics, I’m stunned by how few states I see in play. I don’t think McCain can win Pennsylvania, and I don’t think Obama can win Florida. I see three states deciding this election: Ohio, Colorado, and New Hampshire.
Big turnout should now be a given on both sides. I think it’ll be a long night. I see McCain winning Ohio in a squeaker, and then it’s a matter of whether he can flip Colorado. If he does, he wins. If he only flips New Hampshire, and assuming something goofy doesn’t happen in splittable Nebraska or Maine, we have an electoral vote tie. I think that means that the President vote goes to the House, the VP vote goes to the Senate, and the Dems win. Also, another popular vote/electoral vote divergence is totally in play this year. If McCain pulls this off, you could see some serious efforts to kill the Electoral College in the years to come.
I think McCain/Palin will win another painfully close election, which will be a very divisive outcome. They will struggle to govern in the context of a non-mandate win, with a strongly Dem-controlled Congress. This will be a fair challenge as they are now running as the reform candidates capable of reaching across the aisle. This could be great for America if it works, or a mess that will lead to a Hillary Clinton presidency in 2012. If that happens, the world will end, and we can continue this discussion in another dimension.
I’m dying to hear divergent views. We could not possibly have been treated to a more enthralling battle. (Unless, of course, you love Ron Paul, in which case, I suggest you convert all your assets to gold bars and move to Canada.)