How the Democrats Could Lose in November

Richard Cohen sees a lot of parallels between this year and 1968 and thinks the Democrats could easily lose the presidential election. Mostly, he thinks the bitter fight between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is hurting the party. But he thinks the Republicans can once again turn the perception that they’re stronger on national security to their advantage.

McCain, of course, owns the surge. He advocated putting additional troops in Iraq way back when President Bush, deep in denial, was proclaiming ultimate faith in Rummy and his merry band of incompetents. McCain, in fact, oozes national security. His weakness is that he has too often advocated using — or bluffing about using — force (North Korea, Iran, the former Yugoslavia). With the deft application of just a little demagoguery, he can be made to look like Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden), the deranged Air Force commander in Stanley Kubrick’s always instructional “Dr. Strangelove.”

You can see it all happening again: a Republican charging that the Democrats are defeatist, soft on national security and not to be trusted with the White House. And you can see the Democratic Party heading toward Denver for yet another crackup. This time, instead of McGovern, a genuine war hero (the Distinguished Flying Cross) caricatured as a sissy, the party will put up either a candidate who has been inconsistent on the war or one with almost no foreign policy or military experience.

A year ago, it looked like the party could not lose. This year, it seems determined to try.

He’s right on the larger points. Despite conventional wisdom that the Democratic nominee will be a shoe-in because the country is desperate for a “change” after eight years of Bush, it could well be a close election. Further, if he does manage to win, McCain will almost certainly do it on national security.

Absent a catastrophe at the convention wherein Clinton gets the nomination by employing dubious means that completely alienate Obama’s supporters, however, I believe too much is being made of the bitterness of the infighting. So long as the eventual nominee is considered legitimate, most of the loser’s support will eventually come on board. And it’s not as if McCain is enthusiastically backed by every single Republican, either.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. legion says:

    This is yet another example of deep, deep wishful thinking on the part of Republicans. The Democratic party is _not_ fractured by infighting or bitterness between Clinton & Obama. Yeah, they’re competing, and sometimes they do foolish things, but this primary battle is levels of magnitude more civil and less divisive than the pack of rich old white guys the GOP had to suffer through.

  2. legion says:

    Ah, crap. ADM Fallon, one of the last professional, sane voices in the military, has just resigned from CENTCOM boss. If the puppet Bush puts in his place starts a war with Iran this fall, is that good or bad for Dems? Ugh.

  3. Hal says:

    I, for one, will be so very, very happy when someday I wake up and the last of this generation of pundits shuffles off the corporate coil and retires to the land of fairies, ponies and long haired hippies that they seem to be longing for.

    WRT national security, it pretty much is the only thing that McCain seems to be basing his campaign on. It’ll be interesting to see how much of a return he gets on his BBQs for his base -er.. the press – in the coming months. There’s a saying that familiarity breeds contempt, and one just has to wonder how long the press – er… his base – will stay on bended knee and whether they can resist taking advantage of some of the juicy moments that such access will inevitably provide, given that he’s a cranky old man with a temper.

    Still, one has to wonder at the perspective that looks at the democrats raking in stupendously huge piles of cash, drumming up hoards of enthusiastic voters, engaged in a serious debate about who’s going to lead their party and comes away with the conclusion that they are “tearing themselves apart”. I suppose anything is possible, but more likely all that passion which is directed inward is going to be unleashed with laser like focus on the old man.

    Doesn’t really feel like ’68 to me, but then I’m not Cohen.

    And he spent most of his primary almost submerged, taking advantage of the split vote between Romney and the Huckster. One thing the primary is certainly doing for the Dems is giving them a lot of practice at honing their message and – more importantly – fighting. McCain is spending all his time pandering to his base of his press entourage, relaxing in the sun. Maybe that’s a great strategy, but considering the money differential and the fact that – as I mentioned – there’s going to be the full bore of a very pissed off Democratic constituency soon focussed on him, I can’t help but think the guy should be sweating like Rocky for the upcoming fight instead of holding BBQs.

    Still, going to be hilariously fun, whomever wins the Dem primary. Hilariously fun.

  4. Hal says:

    is that good or bad for Dems?

    My god, man, is that good or bad for the country? The politics will be what they will be.

  5. legion says:

    Eh, I was just trying to relate it to the topic 🙂

    I feel quite certain that it would be irredeemably _terrible_ for our country.

  6. yetanotherjohn says:


    Can you give an example of the GOP primary being more devisive? On the democratic side we have both camps trading barbs about the others lack of competence/experience/judgement to be the president.

    One thing I had a problem with in the article was determining who he was refering to with the statement

    the party will put up either a candidate who has been inconsistent on the war or one with almost no foreign policy or military experience

    In 2004 Obama said something I could agree with.

    “The failure of the Iraqi state would be a disaster. It would dishonor the 900-plus men and women who have already died. . . . It would be a betrayal of the promise that we made to the Iraqi people, and it would be hugely destabilizing from a national security perspective.”

    Then in 2006 he voted ‘no’ (quite correctly in my opinion) on

    To require the redeployment of United States Armed Forces from Iraq in order to further a political solution in Iraq, encourage the people of Iraq to provide for their own security, and achieve victory in the war on terror.

    One of his senior foreign policy advisors made a sensible observation.

    “You can’t make a commitment in March of 2008 about what circumstances are going to be like in January 2009,” said Power, who resigned from the campaign yesterday over separate comments insulting Clinton. “He will, of course, not rely upon some plan that he has crafted as a presidential candidate or a US senator. He will rely upon an operational plan that he pulls together in consultation with people on the ground.”

    But his seems to go against this advice and his previous statements/votes. But then he disavows his advisor and says he will get our combat troops out in 16 months.

    Democratic Sen. Barack Obama has promised to have “our combat troops out within 16 months.”

    Maybe it is all consistant. Perhaps this is a Bubba parsing thing where all the troops will be declared police and not combat troops. But it sure looks to be inconsistant to me.

    On the no foreign policy or military experience, we get the candidate saying one thing.

    “I helped to bring peace to Northern Ireland,”

    but others who were part of that process remembering something very different.

    “She visited when things were happening, saw what was going on, she can certainly say it was part of her experience. I don’t want to rain on the thing for her but being a cheerleader for something is slightly different from being a principal player.”

    as far as military experience, I think she sumed it up pretty well when she couldn’t even see things in hindsight.

    Mrs. Clinton told General Petraeus that his progress report on Iraq required “a willing suspension of disbelief.”

    Bottom line is that both are very weak and inexperienced candidates and the longer this goes on, the more that will be exposed.

    How much will this affect things in November? If Iraq continues on its arc of improvement, then independants will remember who was sometimes voting to withdraw troops and sometimes voting not to withdraw troops and vote for the guy who was pushing for the surge well before it happened.

  7. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Joyner, are any of you people paying any attention what so ever to Barack Hussein Obama? What his background is? What his voting record is? What he stands for politically? You want elect an inexperienced radical lefty who associates with people so far out of the mainstream? A man who has yet to prove he loves the land he lives in. Who tells people the nation is in trouble when it is not. Who’s supporters display Che emblems. His minister is a racist, his wife, and over paid critic of the nation while complaining about the cost of piano lessons as she make $300k annually. I should have that kind of problem. That man will be President when hell freezes over.

  8. Wayne says:

    I can see energy policies becoming a major issue. With the Dems blocking domestic production increases, new power plants and new refineries plus the prices about to get ridiculously high, this could work for the Rep.

  9. Hal says:

    this could work for the Rep

    Please, oh please let McCain base his campaign on new refineries, more domestic production and lots of new power plants.

    Not that we’re going to need this to kick his ass in Nov, but I never turn down help when it’s offered.

  10. Wayne says:

    I understand the liberal media has made it popular to be against such things. However people last year were screaming because of higher prices due to the U.S. getting close to being max out. What will happen when there is an actually shortages and the prices skyrocket? People will have a change in heart in a New York minute. I hope I am wrong and there won’t be a major energy crisis. After all, the economy will suffer greatly if there is one just like it is suffering some now with the prices we have. We can ignore reality for only so long.

  11. Hal says:

    We can ignore reality for only so long.

    Nothing personal, but that had me rolling on the floor, catching my breath from the laughter.

    I hate to break this to you, but the current issue with energy isn’t a supply issue. It’s the fact that our dollar is dropping like a stone and the Republican administration has been cheering it all the way down. I don’t know how much you know about domestic oil production capability, but there simply isn’t much there to tap, not to mention that it gets sold on the global market – not exclusively in the US, mind you – and then there’s the whole decade or so anything new will take to get online. As to power plants, again the issue isn’t so much capacity as it is money. The power used to create the energy in these plants is at an all time high (even adjusted for inflation) so adding more of them does absolutely nothing to the equation – and then there’s the fact that they, again, don’t appear immediately due to actual realities of construction.

    So, please! Base your platform on opening up domestic drilling! Tell everyone you’re going to open the flood gates for new power plant production. Tell them you’re going to start pumping even more CO2 into the atmosphere with those coal plants everyone simply loves.

    Ignoring reality has been a republican pastime for the past 8 years, dude. I don’t see any reason why you think that’s going to stop. And Mr Flak Jacket in the Market doesn’t really seem like a guy who’s looking for reality to bolster his campaign. My guess he’s praying for a bombing in Iran over the next few months.

    It’s pretty much his only hope at this point.

  12. Wayne says:

    I am probably wasting my time with you but here I go. There are many reasons for higher oil prices. The U.S. dollar explain some of the rise for the last year but oil prices have been rising against the pound and Euros at close to same rate as U.S dollar over the past 5 years.

    Look at the following link and you will find a common reason for oil price increases and that would be supply.

    There are three large oil deposits that we know of including places in Alaska, off the coast of California and the Gulf of Mexico. We have places in Kansas that many suspects have oil deposits but are off limit to explore.

    We use Petroleum and natural gas for electric power generators. If we replace those with clean coal plants then we could use the petroleum and natural gas save to help fuel our vehicles. Wind power also relies on other power plants. For example, in Kansas they want to build some wind farms. However they can’t without an upgrade of the power lines and an alternative pack up power. The Dem Governor Appointee turn down the coal power plant this in turn prevents the power line upgrade which in turn prevents the wind farms.

    The excuse that we won’t see the full benefits for many years is pretty lame. Many libs said back before Bush took office that the ANWR exploration would take 10 years to reach full production so it was pointless to pursue. If we did pursue it back then, we would have a major oil field at almost full production now.

  13. Hal says:

    Hey, I’m a peak oil guy, so I think supply is definitely an issue. However, with 60% of the world’s economy going into a heavy recession (that would be us) I think that supply isn’t going to be that big of a short term issue. Certainly, your wikipedia entry doesn’t negate anything I’ve said, and pretty much mirrors what I’ve said.

    As I said, you can increase domestic production by a factor of 10 and it won’t make any dent in what we feel given that the oil that would be theoretically extracted won’t be sold exclusively to the US – it’s sold on the market. Consequently, given that any rise in domestic production would have almost zero relative effect on the global supply, it wouldn’t do jack for prices or supply. Just for grins, just guess at how much that huge discovery in the Gulf is going add to to the global supply. Extracting the whole field won’t even add more than a year or three at current rates of usage and I can guarantee you we can’t extract the field in anything approaching three years

    Clean coal is just a wet dream currently, and is clearly not clean as far as CO2 is concerned. Maybe you don’t give a flying donut about it , but it’s a pretty darn big deal to most everyone else. And the damage that will result from that much influx of CO2 is going to have to be accounted in your budget – I mean, that takes energy and resources, too – and when you do you find it ain’t so “clean”.

    If we did pursue it back then, we would have a major oil field at almost full production now.

    Yea, and if we had toughened CAFE standards a decade ago – even moderately, we’d be saving probably more than any domestic rise in production on a yearly basis. But hey, I remember our Dear Leader telling us Californians during the energy crisis that conservation doesn’t work and we needed to add production.

    As I said, please – by all means – make it the republican platform to consume ever more, build more power plants, strip mine whole mountains for the coal so we can pump up atmospheric CO2 to levels close to that of Venus. Whatever you do, don’t try to take away gas guzzlers or get usage down because increasing consumption is the Republican way.

    I’m sure it will be a big hit and having the 80 year old man sing a snappy tune about it will make it a sure lock on getting the voters.

    Well, until we start bombing the world’s gas station – aka Iran. I’m sure that will pretty much have effects on the market that will make even giving you your wildest wet dreams of expansion look like a tiny little dot compared to the black economic hole that’ll be opened up.

    Still, go for it. Push it all the way.

  14. Wayne says:

    Yep, Sadie and the rest of the world need to produce more while the U.S. produce less and consume more. Sounds like a typical lib position. Everyone else needs to do something while I do nothing.

    President Bush pushed conservation as well as more production. His house is very conservation conscience. However very few others listen. Many ride in their private jets, limousines, SUVs and have very large energy consuming houses. Remember most people reaction when Carter suggests wearing a sweater? I for one do and I look for ways to conserve energy and water without changing my lifestyle radically.

    Increase domestic production would increase world supply and also would lesson the threats of other oil producing countries. That would have a stabilizing affect on the U.S. which would help stabilize the rest of the world.

    I have a coal plant less then five miles from my house. It puts much less pollutants in air than many other pollutants industries in our area. CO2 is use by plants for growth which farm communities like.

    It cracks me up that Californians are so green but when their energy supply gets interrupted, it is “we want our energy and we want it now”. Why doesn’t California start leading by example and become a green energy independant state?

  15. Hal says:

    Everyone else needs to do something while I do nothing.

    WTF? No such thing. Nice try, bucko.

    President Bush pushed conservation as well as more production.

    Name three.

    Increase domestic production would increase world supply and also would lesson the threats of other oil producing countries

    Well, it will increase world supply by 0.001%. Hardly a threat reducing amount. It’s literally a drop in the bucket. Stop talking qualitatively and start talking quantitatively.

    CO2 is use by plants for growth which farm communities like.

    My, you really are a loon.

    Why doesn’t California start leading by example and become a green energy independant state?

    We are. Unfortunately, the Bush lead agencies are completely thwarting this. We’re suing to allow it to happen but the supposedly states rights backing Republicans are in fact “states rights” only WRT slavery and abortion laws.

    We were supposed to have 2% of the cars as zero emission vehicles and low and behold your buddies the car companies blocked that with the help of the Republicans. I can go on and on for days listing similar issues. The latest, of course, was the fiasco of the EPA saying we couldn’t regulate C02 production.

    You really should educate yourself more on the subject you’re trying to be sardonic about *before* you try to be sardonic about it.

    Dude. I bet you could have found out half of this from Wikipedia if you’d had bothered.

  16. Wayne says:

    I knew it was a waste trying to reason with you.
    CO2 does benefit plant growth.

    If there is so little domestic energy deposits potential in U.S. then why fight it. If it so small then it can’t hurt the environment much now can it.
    You claim that “The latest, of course, was the fiasco of the EPA saying we couldn’t regulate C02 production”. That’s funny Kansas Department of Health and Environment has. Get your facts right. The EPA said “they” are not going to regulate CO2 emissions not that the states can’t.

    The Federal Government is not keeping California from creating there own rules. Only deal is if they try to impose those standards, other state Manufacturers won’t deal with them. California will have to rely on their own production. Please show the rest of the nation how it is done. Fat chance!

  17. Hal says:

    CO2 does benefit plant growth

    Dude, I said you were a loon, not that CO2 doesn’t benefit plant growth. I mean, anyone with high school biology knows that. But it isn’t the *only* thing that CO2 does. It’s also a green house gas and enough of it in the atmosphere and it won’t matter that it’s good for plants. Given that we’re burning more than 200000 acres of rain forest per *day* and the amount of plant material which could “benefit” – as you say – from all this wonderful C02, is *decreasing*, you end up with a massive surplus of C02 rather than a wonderful fairy land of happy plants cycling your C02 in equilibrium. I mean, really. Wikipedia is not a substitute for basic high school science.

    If there is so little domestic energy deposits potential in U.S. then why fight it. If it so small then it can’t hurt the environment much now can it.

    Geebus. You really have no idea of the scale of global energy consumption, do you? Your simple mind is equating the relative value of increasing domestic supply – which is very tiny – to the environmental damage to produce this increase which is like saying “a nuclear bomb is tiny compared to the energy of the earth receives from the sun every day so what’s the harm with blowing up a few of them”. I mean, you’re just serving as a poster child for why it’s so dangerous to be scientifically illiterate.

    Get your facts right.

    Dude. Do your research. Again, you’re making these simple minded arguments, trying to claim similarities between different things. Geebus.

    The Federal Government is not keeping California from creating there own rules

    Yes, it is. This is *explicitly* what the federal government is doing.

    The Bush administration said Wednesday night that it would deny California’s bid to set stricter vehicle emissions standards than federal law required as part of the state’s efforts to fight climate change.

    Dude. You need to stop comparing things which aren’t the same and arguing from analogies which have no relevance.