In early December 2007, at a time when Hillary Clinton was tracking 20+ points ahead of the Democratic field in national polls, I published an article contending that Hillary Clinton was an inherently weak candidate, a beatable candidate, and that Barack Obama would be a stronger match against Republicans.
I argued that she had the highest “unfavorable” rating of anyone who ever had run for the presidency, that she was the only Democratic candidate who could unite and energize the Republican base, that she was running 10-15 points behind generic Democrat v. Republican presidential polls, that her head-to-head match-ups with the Republican candidates were poor, that in Iowa, where she was the only woman candidate with seven men, she was polling only 26%, that several Democratic U.S. Senate candidates had told me she would pull the ticket down in her states, and that Bill was a potentially large, uncontrollable liability [even I did not know how true that prediction would become!]. Hillary never was “inevitable.” The evidence of her imminent demise was there for anyone who wanted to look. OK, that was then, this is now.
The November Presidential election is not going to be close. Barack Obama is going to beat John McCain by 8-10 points in the national popular vote and win 300-350 electoral votes. Barack Obama is going to wipe-out John McCain mano-a-mano.
I am far more confident making this prediction than I was in predicting Hillary’s demise. There are many reasons why.
The Political Environment: The Republican Party is led — and branded — by an extraordinarily unpopular president, whose policies John McCain has staunchly defended and supported [95% voting congruence in 2007]. In the recent CBS News/New York TImes poll, Bush is at 28% approval, 65% disapproval; in the Hart/Newhouse poll, he is at 27% approval, 66% disapproval. While some presidents have fallen to low levels in the past, what is truly remarkable about Bush is how long-term and persistent voter disapproval of him has been and the depth of voter sentiment: The May 12th Washington Post/ABC poll showed only 15% of voters “strongly approve,” while 52% “strongly disapprove.”
Voters think, correctly, that the country is on the wrong track. In the Hart/Newhouse poll, 15% of voters said the country was headed in the “right direction,” while an astounding 73% said “wrong direction.” Remember, these polls include all voters, not just Democrats!
On issues, Republicans are on the short-end of everything except the military and national security. Among voters, in the New York Times/CBS poll, when asked which party is better, on healthcare 63% say Democrats, while only 19% say Republicans; the economy, 56% say Democrats, 28% say Republicans; sharing your moral values, 50% say Democrats, 34% say Republican; and, dealing with Iraq, 50% say Democrats, 34% say Republicans. The Democratic Party has a 52% favorable and 41% unfavorable rating; the Republican Party has a 33% favorable and 58% unfavorable rating. A whopping 63% say the U.S. needs to withdraw from Iraq within twelve months; John McCain wants to stay roughly forever — and attack Iran. When asked [Washington Post/ABC poll], “Which party do you trust to do a better job coping with the main problems the nation faces over the next few years?” Democrats are chosen by a 53-32% margin.
The U.S. economy is sinking (while John McCain has said he doesn’t know much about the economy); gas prices are skyrocketing; the housing market has collapsed and people are losing their homes; and, the Iraq Recession shows no signs of abating.
McCain has been able to stay close to parity in polls matching him with Obama, but that is the product of the bashing Obama has taken from the Clinton campaign. Once that internal scrap is behind him, and he can go head-to-head against McCain, his polling is going to soar.
Even in fund-raising, a traditional Republican strength, the Republicans are at a disadvantage. At last reported count, Obama had $51 million cash-on-hand; McCain had $11 million. In the combined cash of the national party committees, Republicans had $55.5 million; Democrats $87.1 million. The netroots has raised unprecedented amounts of money for Democrats, especially Obama; labor unions have gone deeper into their pockets and are raising more money for Democrats than in prior elections; and, even business PACs have given more money to Democrats! Business blows with the wind and it knows which way the wind is blowing.
Simply put, this is the worst possible time for any Republican to be running for President. And, this is not simply my opinion, it also is an opinion which has many adherents in the Republican Party and among traditional Republican supporters. Representative Tom Davis, from Virginia, in an internal memo to Republicans, recently wrote, “The political atmosphere facing…Republicans this November is the worst since Watergate and is far more toxic that the fall of 2006… The Republican brand is in the trash can….[I]f we were dog food, they would take us off the shelf.”
The Candidates: While many ardent Democrats would disagree with this assessment, I personally consider John McCain to be an honorable, decent man. I have enormous respect — and cannot forget — the fact that he declined the opportunity to be released from a North Vietnamese prison because his father had been a Navy Admiral and chose instead to stay with his comrades for 5 1/2 years. Very few of us would have done that — I know I would not have. There is a loyalty and integrity there that we need to remember and honor. And, despite efforts to disparage the “maverick” label, the reality is that, for a substantial part of his political career, he was a Republican maverick on a variety of issues, including the environment, immigration, campaign reform, taxes and the budget. These are not inconsequential disagreements with the Republican Party and he has been almost singular in being willing to disagree with the Republican establishment. But that is the previous incarnation of McCain, not the version we’ve seen for the last four years or the version who has to run between now and November.
What we are going to see in the general election from McCain is a ton of mistakes. The very thing the press likes about him, his candor and shoot-from-the-hip style, is going to kill him when the full weight of media attention is trained on him. He never has been a good speaker with a prepared text (last night, his speech was characteristically wooden, with several word confusions). What the media always has loved about him is the quick, gritty, candid John McCain, but that version is gone; he now is a damaged, slower-thinking McCain, but his habits will remain the same, he will still try to be the quick wit, the maverick. It just isn’t going to work, and while McCain is still capable [with help] of firing some zingers which hit, he will be unable to sustain a narrative, or fool the American voters for the next five months. This is not just about being 71, it is about being a very old 71. It might be sad to watch, but I for one will have no sympathy. There is too much at stake.
Obama is the perfect candidate for Democrats, and a nightmare for McCain. Obama, who by every metric is a brilliant strategist, thinker and speaker, is going to run circles around McCain. While McCain, who is not a very good speaker even on his best day, will appear slow, befuddled, confused, he will make gaffes; Obama will be charismatic, smart, thoughtful, high-minded, alert and substantive. It will be no contest. And adding to Obama’s natural advantages, McCain has just enough integrity to try to match up with Obama on issues. In that debate on substance, Obama’s overwhelming intellectual superiority and mental alertness will become obvious. There will be the believers, who have jumped on-board the Obama campaign and will continue to multiply, but there also is going to be another type of vote which is going to swing heavily to Barack Obama — the default vote. Voters are going to default to Obama because it will become obvious McCain simply is not up to the task of being President.
This is going to be the first not-close Presidential election since 1988. You heard it here first.