Obama is the electable Democrat

A lot of John Edwards supporters are doing some soul-searching right now, trying to decide which of the remaining Democratic contenders to get behind. People had various different reasons for backing ol’ Johnny Boy, but one thing that the vast majority have in common, presumably, is that they desperately want a Democrat to win in November. Assuming they do indeed feel that way, Edwards supporters (and, for that matter, those currently backing Hillary Clinton) ought to seriously consider jumping on the Barack Obama bandwagon, because as best as I can tell, Hillary Clinton is quite possibly the only person in the known universe who is capable of uniting the Republican base behind John McCain.

McCain, of course, is almost certainly going to be the Republican nominee for president. He’s got Rudy and Ahnold on his side now, with more endorsements to come, no doubt, and his momentum appears unstoppable — the GOP establishment is already getting into “rally around the winner” mode. And perhaps not unrelatedly, it appears that the Mitt Romney is pretty much giving up the ghost, at least in terms of TV ads.

So it’ll be McCain for the Republicans. This is an extremely significant fact because a substantial chunk of the Republican base hates John McCain. I mean, really despises the man. They respect his foreign policy chops, but not much else; on domestic policy, they don’t consider him a true conservative or a real Republican. On the contrary, they view him as an apostate on several core issues (immigration, taxes, campaign finance, interrogation, etc.) and a disloyal, MSM-loving sellout who cannot be trusted to uphold their principles. As such, they have no interest whatsoever in voting for him. Thus, on November 4, many of them will stay home.

Unless Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee.

Needless to say, pretty much the entire Republican base hates Hillary Clinton with the heat of a thousand suns. By contrast, the anti-McCain segment of the base only hates McCain with the heat of, oh, perhaps five or six hundred suns. So if he’s running against her, many of the McCain Derangement Syndome folks will do something they wouldn’t do in virtually any other potential matchup: they’ll hold their noses and vote for McCain. Whatever it takes to stop Hillary.

This categorically would not be the case if the nominee were Barack Obama, whose policies might be anathema to the right (he is, after all, quite liberal) but whose personality and political history simply do not inspire the sort of revulsion and loathing that Clinton’s do. In fact, from what I’ve seen, a lot of average voters who disagree with Obama’s politics still seem to genuinely like the guy. So I just can’t see too many McCain-haters holding their noses and voting for Mr. Straight Talk just to prevent the calamity of an Obama victory. (Okay, so a few racists, particularly among the nativist segment of the anti-McCain crowd, would indeed vote for McCain to stop Obama. But c’mon: which is more prevalent on today’s right? Racism, or Hillary-hatred? "Anybody but Hillary" is a much more effective rallying cry than "Anybody but Obama.")

In comments, Andrew — while agreeing that “HRC is an easier opponent for McCain than Obama” — argues that I am “overstat[ing] the degree to which the GOP right ‘despises’ John McCain and would thus stay home.” But I’m not arguing that whole base despises him, or that they’ll stay home en masse. I’m saying that a large enough portion of the base will stay home that it’ll seriously hurt McCain’s chances. I agree with Andrew that a lot of GOP base voters would ultimately vote for McCain over any Democrat because of Iraq and terrorism, but I still think there would be enough recalcitrant MDS folks to make a major difference. Against Hillary, though, the recalcitrants’ numbers would be tiny indeed.

On top of all that, Obama has much more appeal to independents, moderates and centrists than Clinton does. So basically, in a McCain-Obama race, you have Obama getting solid Democratic support plus competing strongly with McCain for the middle, while a significant portion of the Republican base stays home instead of voting for a nominee they hate. Sounds like a recipe for Democratic victory to me, probably by a comfortable margin. By contrast, in a McCain-Clinton race, you have Clinton getting solid Democratic support but making fewer inroads to the middle than Obama would, thus allowing McCain to do well with moderates while holding onto the GOP base because they hate Hillary so much. It would be yet another pitched partisan battle and state-by-state GOTV war — no chance for a comfy Democratic victory. Indeed, any Dem victory at all would be a surprise. Most likely, McCain wins that matchup.

Obama himself underlined this crucial difference during his speech in Denver today (transcript here), calling Hillary calculating and divisive and arguing that he, Obama, is best positioned to beat John McCain. “Democrats will win in November and build a majority in Congress not by nominating a candidate who will unite the other party against us, but by choosing one who can unite this country around a movement for change,” he said.

(Predictably, the Clinton campaign shot back that, by attacking Hillary, Obama was violating his own “politics of hope.” But that’s a bogus argument; Obama never said it isn’t okay to draw substantive contrasts between yourself and your opponents when it comes your positions, your record, and your traits and virtues that actually matter. So there’s nothing wrong with Obama criticizing Clinton’s record of triangulation and divisiveness, just as there’s nothing wrong with Clinton criticizing Obama for, say, his inexperience — or for that matter, with either candidate criticizing Bush for his incompetence. These are all legitimate criticisms; it’s up to the criticized candidate to rebut them on their merits, not deflect them by saying that the critic is being mean. What isn’t legitimate is to distort the truth in the course of criticizing your opponent, as the Clintons have done, and/or to focus on issues like race or gender, or total irrelevancies like kindergarten essays.)

Anyway… Obama’s right, and if the Democrats know what’s good for them, they’ll start realizing it. (Frank Rich offers even more reasons why a Hillary nomination would be a dream come true for McCain and the Republicans.) If the Dems want to take back the White House, their choice is clear. Obama is by far the more electable candidate in a race against John McCain.

P.S. And don’t talk to me about national head-to-head polls. Those things are completely meaningless at this point. What matters is the dynamic of the race, based on the respective strengths and weaknesses that each candidate brings to the table. And in this case, the dynamics of a Clinton-McCain and of an Obama-McCain race couldn’t be more clear. For the Dems, #1 is a loser, #2 is a winner, simple as that.

P.P.S. I know I’ve been wrong a lot this election season. But back in 2004, I was right that John Kerry was an exceedingly poor “electability” choice for the Democrats (and this is back when I was a Democrat). I saw the train-wreck of Kerry’s general-election campaign coming from a hundred miles away, and I said so repeatedly before he wrapped up the nomination — alas, to no avail. Now I’m going to say that, in the current environment, Hillary over Obama might be an even worse choice, electability-wise, than Kerry over the ’04 alternatives was!

18 Responses to “Obama is the electable Democrat”

  1. Andrew says:

    I think HRC is an easier opponent for McCain than Obama, but I think you overstate the degree to which the GOP right “despises” John McCain and would thus stay home. It’s not the evangelical wing that is angry with him over immigration reform and McCain-Feingold; that’s Romney’s weakness due to his Mormonism. McCain is weak among ideological Republicans — a sizeable chunk, to be sure — but also the type of Republican that is least likely to defect or refrain from voting, especially given the differences between McCain and Obama on Iraq and terrorism.

  2. Brendan Loy says:

    Darn it, this post was supposed to be embargoed until sometime this (Wednesday) morning, but I messed up the timestamp.

    I’m embargoing it now, but it will reappear in a while…

  3. Anonymous Hoosier says:

    I completely disagree with Brendan’s analysis. Although it may appear otherwise to his infatuated eyes (how did the Obama campaign find a “Rebecca Loy” to hire, anyway?), Obama’s crossover appeal at the end of a long campaign will be much less than Hillary’s, *particularly* if McCain is the Republican nominee.

    The problem for the Republicans is simply this — although there are numerous Clinton-haters out there who will indeed be motivated to vote for anyone — even Ron Paul — to keep Hillary (and Bill) from returning to the White House, they are outnumbered by “soft Republican” female voters, many of whom (unlike me — see the comment thread from David’s post a little while back) privately feel a serious temptation to vote for Hillary to see a woman as President. There is no similar effect with Obama. And if this turns out to be an election about pocketbook issues, as now appears likely, McCain lacks the ability to appeal to those voters on the common-sense, conservative ideological grounds that lead many of them to lean Republican.

    Just because identity politics is stronger among Democrats doesn’t mean it’s lacking among Republicans.

    Finally, while Obama has “rock-star” appeal to the middle, at the end of the day, some of that will flame out against a serious, strong-on-the-war, leader like McCain. At the end of the day, a lot of those independents and moderates will turn out to be easier pickups for a stone-hearted woman who you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley than for the second coming of Ringo

    Starr. So I think the postulated advantage for Obama in the middle is also wrong.

    Not that my track record of being right is any better than anyone else’s.

  4. Condor says:

    In a McCain/Obama match-up, say what you will about the gap in experience, the most evident thing for voters would be the charisma gap. Look at Obama’s victory speech in South Carolina and then McCain’s victory speech in Florida. It’s like Pericles vs. the guy who takes your order at the McDonald’s drive-through. Now, I kind of like McCain. He’s a freakin’ hero, for one. But he is going to get absolutely killed by Obama’s charisma. It’ll make him look like he’s 300 years-old.

  5. Brendan Loy says:

    Very interesting analysis, Hoosier. I still think I’m right, but you make a good counterargument. :)

    And yeah, Condor, that’s a good point too.

  6. Gardner says:

    If McAmnesty wins the GOP nomination, I will not vote for him in the fall. That’s not to say I’ll vote for either Obama/HRC (becasue I disagree w/ many of their policies) or that I’ll stay home. I’ll vote, just not sure who for.

    I vote Feb 12th in VA and hopefully Romney (my guy) still has a fighting chance then. If not, I’ll be pushing the button for Obama over HRC on the Dem ticket. Because I don’t want HRC way more than I don’t want Obama.

  7. Sean says:

    If it’s a McCain vs Obama race, I’m going to sleep very soundly at night.

  8. Anonymous Hoosier says:

    Thanks, Brendan. By the way, re-reading your post this a.m., I think you might want to add another caveat to your first bolded sentence: “Hillary Clinton is quite possibly the only person in the known universe who is capable of uniting the Republican base behind John McCain.”

    My suggested caveat is “eligible to run for President.” After all, wouldn’t Bill Clinton do the same thing? (Probably Al Gore too, but that’s picking nits).

  9. MumZ says:

    Just a thought- I wonder how many people would NOT vote for HRC because she is female? I should think that sort of “enlightenment” would be right up there with those who would not vote for Obama because he is black…

  10. Angrier and Angrier says:

    Here is an interesting article in the New York Times about Bill Clinton’s questionable business dealings since he has been out of office…

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/31/us/politics/31donor.html?ei=5065&en=6a843530898e147a&ex=1202446800&partner=MYWAY&pagewanted=print

    If this stuff is coming out now, just imagine what we will be hearing if Hillary is the nominee. Karl Rove is right. Hillary can’t win.

  11. Angrier and Angrier says:

    I supported McCain in 2000. I won’t do it now, even if Hillary is the nominee.

    I listened to McCain last night. His pandering to the Right was disgusting. He voted against Bush’s tax cuts, but he won’t let them sunset. He sponsored a bill on immigration reform, but he wouldn’t say whether or not he would actually vote for it himself. He bashed Sandra Day O’Connor because she wasn’t a “strict Constructionist” even though Reagan had the guts to nominate her.

    McCain’s use of “straight talk” laughable. The guy hasn’t used “straight talk” since he lost in South Carolina in 2000.

  12. john says:

    I am a person who fits Brendan’s mold. I can’t stand McCain for his 1st amendment and immigration views… but Hillary inspires another level of passion entirely, (namely, defense of my country,) and I would actively work before and until November to see that she does not become president.

  13. GoldenBear says:

    Brandon,

    I know you have been pimping the Obama Bandwagon recently but if I remember correctly, the last comment you made regarding your possible vote in November was that you were still not sure who you would pick between McCain and Obama in a general election. If that is the case, how about some comments on the Republican Debate last night? I agree with Angrier and Angrier To me, McCain came off really bad – he was unnecessarily mean and he just came off ugly – Not only did he rip into Mitt but he did it in an angry way. This is the ugly side of McCain that Republicans fear – a hothead who does not have the style to pull off the attacks he seems to love to make without looking mean and ugly.

  14. Angrier and Angrier says:

    I agree with GoldenBear. McCain did not come off well, not only in tone but in content. I don’t care for Romney, but I think Romney mopped the floor with McCain whenever he responded to McCain’s attacks (which all appeared to be off target). McCain’s research people need to do some more work and Romney’s research team should get an award for anticipating McCain’s line of attack.

  15. Brendan Loy says:

    Didn’t watch it, sorry.

    I agree, though, that McCain sometimes comes across as unnecessarily mean. He also sometimes comes across as… I’m not sure if “smarmy” is the right word… but, for example, the other night on CNN, he was doing this really annoying fake-laughter thing, where he was trying to pretend he was being all nonchalant about Romney’s criticisms, and trying to mask his own rebuttal attack under the guise of an offhanded remark while smiling and laughing — but it was all so obviously fake that it became quite grating. I don’t know quite how to describe it, you’d have to see him do it to understand what I mean. He was like, “oh yes, ha ha Anderson, Governor Romney and his silly attacks, ha ha ha, he just doesn’t have the experience to be president, that’s all it is, ha ha.” Really irritating.

    But anyway: I like McCain. I think he’s a good man, and both his heart and his head are generally in the right place. He’s not without his flaws, however, and his mean and smarmy streaks are among them.

  16. Angrier and Angrier says:

    Brendan-

    I had a boss who did the same thing McCain does. He smiles and talks with his jaw kind of clenched. You know he is seething inside, but he is trying to hide it publicly. It’s not really smarmy. Just kind of hateful.

  17. Condor says:

    I don’t know about you, but it’s the people who have crash landed into enemy territory, fracturing both arms and a leg then being spat upon, kicked and stripped hit in the shoulder shoulder with the butt of a rifle and bayoneted in the left foot and abdominal area then transported to Hanoi’s main prison, refused a hospital, left for dead, and then tortured for two more years WHO DON’T TALK WITH A CLENCHED JAW that worry me.

  18. Angrier and Angrier says:

    Condor-

    That, sir, is a very valid point.