For much of the political year, I've been indicating why I thought John McCain was going to win the presidential election. I have been accused of being a far-right conservative and a racist for doing so. This has caused me a great deal of pause.
It is unfortunate that so many people caught up by Obama's very impressive rhetorical ability have become unable to see past the hype and imagine that there would be anyone, anywhere who would oppose him for any legitimate reasons.
It is also unfortunate that people would be so caught up in Obamamania that they couldn't see the difference between looking at a political situation impartially and commenting on what one thought would happen, and support for the outcome one predicted.
Obama has many gifts and many flaws, just like any candidate (or any person for that matter). Based on the history of recent U.S. elections, and the country's right-leaning nature, I believed that Obama was unlikely to be elected. I have never seen race as a major issue in the contest because race would only affect voting preferences of significant numbers of people in states the Democrats were unlikely to win anyway.
However, John McCain has done his best to lose this race. As a friend of mine once said in refernece to John Tory's loss to Dalton McGuinty in 2007, he seems to have grasped defeat from the jaws of victory.
Nate Silver's brilliant site fivethirtyeight.com says McCain has a 3.3% chance of victory. I remain convinced that Americans will have a hard time voting for a liberal with a thin record so I would say it is more like a 20% chance, but still not very likely.
McCain's people, all but admitting defeat, are trying to blame the loss on the financial crisis and the weak Republican brand thanks to the Bush years. They forget however that at one time the media was willing to give McCain the benefit of the doubt, he was branded as a maverick beholden to no party, started the summer with higher favourability ratings than Obama and led in polls as recently as late September. George Bush and Wall Street did not lose this election for McCain, McCain did.
McCain's support of immigration reform could have bought him unprecedented support among Hispanics. Instead, he looks likely to get far less votes there than Bush did in either 2000 or 2004. This is but one example where he made a huge strategic error. This would have locked Nevada and New Mexico into his column and put California into the single digits forcing Obama to spend big money there to keep that Democratic-must-win-state blue. McCain did backtrack on his position during the primary, but after he locked it up, without flip-flopping, he could have easily stated a position that honoured his record and appealed to Hispanics.
On March 4, McCain wrapped up the nomination. On March 5, he should have been in Southern California announcing his immigration and border security platform. With Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mike Huckabee at his side (both supporters of immigration reform, one an independent figure and one popular with the base) he should have said:
"Over the past year, this country has had a profound debate on the question of immigration and border security. I have been in the middle of this debate and I have crossed party lines to try to find a solution. My friends, I was the first to admit during the primary campaign that the proposal put forward by myself and others become unsaleable. It was not what Americans wanted and during the primary, I said if it came back to the Senate I would vote against it because I must reflect the will of the people. What Americans have told me is, though they are compassionate, they also have legitimate concerns about their economic and personal security so long as our borders are not secure. If elected, I will ask the Congress to pass the Comprehensive Immigration and Border Security Reform Act. This law would incorporate the best of our bill from last June but would also ensure that while we treated those people who have come to this country to seek opportunity and the American dream with respect, we would make sure that no one else ever entered this country illegally."
With that, he would have regained credibility among the immigration reform lobby without going back on his statements during the primary.
Then he should have set out to tour around 10 or so Democratic states that he could win under some scenario, including several more visits to California. This would have put the scare into Democrats who were already fretting their long primary.
Some of these activities may have scared the base, and something would have had to have been done to counter-balance that. One of the big mistakes McCain made was that he wasted all kinds of time in the spring trying to make up with the base and then he announced a base-inspiring vice-presidential pick. He should have done one or the other, not both. A big centrist maverick tour of Democratic states could have put him solidly in the lead in polls by the time the Democratic primary wrapped up. He then could have followed it by picking a base vice-presidential candidate, such as Sarah Palin who, I think, if handled differently, could have inspired the base (as she has) without damaging McCain's credibility. But this should have been in June or early July, with the campaign doing a week or two of setting the tone for the vice-presidential pick.
The next big mistake made by the McCain campaign has been their abrasive relationship with the media. The media, which McCain himself used to call his "base", feel betrayed. Moreover, the restrictive, scripted campaign regimen that has been imposed on him has not been to his liking and it has made him grumpy which has help paint a very unhelpful caricature. There is a great web-editorial on ABC News that talks about how far the media has turned against McCain, check it out.
Is McCain going to win? Very unlikely. Could he have won? Very easily. Whose fault is it? The McCain campaign.