The Competiveness of John McCain

Give him his due: This guy is very tenacious and is making this a very competitive race. If change is the ballot box issue, Obama wins. If doubt is, McCain wins. He is the only candidate in the entire Republican party who could make this presidential contest a close race. This blog has held this position throughout the primaries, even when Obama was being put through the ringer by Hillary Clinton. McCain appeals to independent voters. He is seen as being less partisan than most politicians in either party.  McCain may support most of President Bush’s policies, but he comes across as a different kind of Republican.

That said, the conservative movement is currently in big trouble in the United States. We are a long way from the “Morning in America” of Ronald Reagan, or the victorious “Contract with America” of Newt Gingrich. Congress is now in the hands of the Democrats, and the most conservative president in modern times is the least popular outgoing president in modern history. Still, to be fair, conservatives have made an important contribution to the American political dynamic in the past 40 years. The conservative mantra of balanced budgets, greater individual choice, controlled government spending, strong national security, and law and order have brought a balance to the political debate of the post-World War II period. And much of it was needed. But Just as American liberals eventually lost their course after dominating the political spectrum for over 40 years, so have conservatives.

The excesses after 9/11, the polarizing effect of attack-type politics, and the drifting away from conservative fiscal policies are illustrations that conservatives must rethink and regroup to remain relevant in future political debate. John McCain is the one conservative who can accomplish this. This is why I have argued from the beginning that McCain will bring change, though mostly for his party and not as much for his country. At least for now.

The conservative base does not like McCain because he has constantly challenged the social- and neo-conservative wings, and held to the more traditional fiscal and foreign policy conservative thought. Americans know McCain and are avoiding the temptation to place all of the current dissatisfaction with Bush at McCain’s doorstep. That is why the Arizona senator is so competitive. However, this does not mean that he is unbeatable and that Americans will choose doubt over change or the continuation of current policy over new. It simply means the Democrats have their work cut out for them. The Obama campaign in the last week is now responding to McCain’s agenda. And that is very risky.

McCain’s campaign seems to be taking the same approach Hillary Clinton took from March on. That is, be negative, define your opponent, and push popular policy initiatives (even if you held a contrary view just a short time ago). So far, it has worked with the Paris Hilton ad and offshore oil drilling. The Democrats will need to get back to the change agenda and the Obama campaign must aim for a crescendo at the convention to reintroduce its candidate. But it must be done in a way that will show him as a leader with values they share, offering new policies and possessing a strong leadership team that Americans can feel comfortable with and feel secure about.

This election has all the makings of a close finish, at least at the presidential level. Yet, this should not be if you gauge the current mood. However, McCain is ‘genetically’ a competitive person and Obama is new. The Illinois senator may still be leading in the polls, but his challenge is to avoid having the election focused only on him because that is the only way McCain has a chance to win. Let’s face it, McCain has had a good week.