My belief has been constant for the 2008 campaign year: Despite the strong Democratic winds that will blow bigger majorities into the House and Senate, the White House would remain Republican because the Democrats were committed to two unelectable candidates.
I have always believed that the first serious black candidate and the first serious woman candidate will be denied the White House as voters are slow to embrace such a massive milestone.
So when it became clear that John McCain was to be the Republican nominee, my narrative was easy: He wins against Hillary Clinton, he wins against Barack Obama – because either opponent would bring too big a gulp of history for the electorate to swallow first time out.
But since anything is possible, once the concrete dried on a McCain/Obama race, I kept a tiny asterisk on hand: Mr. McCain wins – unless something occurs that is so mind-blowing that it shifts the entire foundation of the race.
Well, that may have happened.
Mr. McCain had passed Mr. Obama in the polls when the first crest of the economic tsunami hit. The wreckage left behind was the McCain campaign, caught flat-footed by precisely the kind of crisis that sends many voters lunging for a government skirt to hide behind.
Mr. McCain’s “campaign suspension” looks like a silly stunt now in a country that failed to maintain enough vigor to demand from Congress alternatives to the poisonous bailout that has us all on the hook for bad credit decisions by unwise lenders and borrowers.
The economic crisis was a blow to Mr. McCain for two reasons. The first is that we have too many lazy, timid citizens unwilling to fight our way out of hard times without a government crutch.
The second is Mr. McCain’s fault entirely. This “maverick,” so proud of promoting individual achievement in an atmosphere of less government, joined the rest of Congress in caving to the usual politician instincts: protect the rich and powerful on Wall Street, provide an easy fix that will make voters think you did something, and never, ever require people to swallow a tough pill.
The credit meltdown delivered Mr. McCain a setback that he could have turned into a basis for victory. If he had said no to the bailout, he would have displayed a stark contrast with his opponent and President Bush.
Imagine Mr. McCain at a rally: “Senator Obama is the one siding with President Bush on this bailout you and I know is wrong! My administration will say no to bailouts, no to rescuing Wall Street on your dime, and no to the same old policies that got us into this problem in the first place!”
I can dream.
But here in the real world, Mr. McCain doesn’t have courage on the economy to boost him to victory. He can’t even count on the courage he has actually displayed, in supporting a war that is working far better than his opponents will ever admit. The war’s successes are swallowed alive by the economy’s failures.
That economy accounted for at least a 10-point swing in the polls, handing Mr. Obama a lead he might never have had. But he has it now, and the question is: Is it insurmountable?
It is not. There is a number that will determine how the election goes. It is the number of people who were willing to favor Mr. Obama to a pollster but who think better of it in the privacy and sanctity of a polling place.
If that number is not sufficient to elect Mr. McCain, the economy will have provided Mr. Obama the tectonic shift he needed to achieve electability.
Have PoliticalMavens.com delivered to your inbox in a daily digest by clicking here