Obama vs. McCain Fall Preview

Bill Kristol, fresh from various cocktail parties with conservatives and a couple of e-mails from Democrats, lays out his vision of how a general election contest between Barack Obama and John McCain will play out.

He dismisses the notion that the prolonged, bitter fight between Obama and Hillary Clinton will ultimately hurt the Democrats, figuring that Clinton will graciously concede a month or so from now when it becomes more clear that she can’t win and that a media “love fest” will ensue. That strikes me as right.

Regardless, shockingly, he predicts a McCain win:

But Republicans will. Last week, over drinks, one Republican strategist not affiliated with the McCain campaign mused about how an independent advertising effort against Obama might work. “Barack Obama: He’s not who you think he is” would be the theme. The supporting evidence would come from his left-wing voting record in Illinois and Washington, spiced up with fun video clips of Reverend Wright.

Who ultimately wins? In politics, as in life, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Many Republicans I know see the weaknesses of their party and of the McCain campaign all too clearly, and assume Obama will prevail.

But a surprising number of Democrats with whom I’ve spoken expect a McCain victory. One told me he was struck by the current polls showing a dead-even race, suggesting both a surprising openness to McCain among Americans who disapprove of Bush and a striking hesitation among the same voters about Obama.

Then there’s the fact that we’re at war. As a Congressional staffer put it, “Here’s something to consider: Although Hillary will be out in May, she may determine the outcome in November. McCain’s secret weapon — among Clinton supporters — may be Hillary’s 3 a.m. national security ad.”

And an experienced Democratic operative e-mailed: “Finally, I think [McCain’s] going to win. Obama isn’t growing in stature. Once I thought he could be Jimmy Carter, but now he reminds me more of Michael Dukakis with the flag lapel thing and defending Wright. Plus he doesn’t have a clue how to talk to the middle class. He’s in the Stevenson reform mold out of Illinois, with a dash of Harvard disease thrown in.”

In a close race, that “dash of Harvard disease” could be the difference.

I agree that the “He’s not who you think he is” theme will sharpen the race and that national security will continue to be McCain’s biggest advantage. But the idea that Obama is Dukais — much less aspiring to be Jimmy Carter but falling short — is silly. He’s much more charismatic than either man and appealing to an electorate desperate for something different.

It’s also true that Obama has done a better job of appealing to the Democratic elite than to blue collar voters. Then again, he’s winning. By definition, that means he’s getting a huge number of middle class votes. Further, he’ll ultimately pick up most of Clinton’s supporters.

McCain and Obama are both different enough from the recent nominees of their respective parties to put a handful of states that have been solidly Red and Blue in play. Both appeal to moderate voters. It’s going to be a very interesting race. And almost certainly not a re-run of Bush-Dukakis or Carter-Ford.

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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.

Comments

  1. glasnost says:

    In other news, Bill Kristol’s capacity for a) self-delusion and b) pushing bad ideas through the use of logically weak arguments, based on his own professional self-interest – continues onward.

    The headline should be: Republican operative thinks Republicans are going to win in fall – or even better, “McCain operative thinks McCain going to win”. Gee. Ya think?

    Unless he cuts himself free of the Republican party and declares himself an independent, he’s going to get shellacked.

  2. Patrick T McGuire says:

    All we need now is for Bob Barr to enter the race and everything will be back up in the air again.

    Ain’t politics grand!

  3. Bithead says:

    But the idea that Obama is Dukais — much less aspiring to be Jimmy Carter but falling short — is silly. He’s much more charismatic than either man and appealing to an electorate desperate for something different.

    Something different?
    How does Obama’s being “charismatic” qualify him as that? Wasn’t that Bill Clinton’s shtick?

    Unless he cuts himself free of the Republican party and declares himself an independent, he’s going to get shellacked.

    Unless he turns out to be correct.

  4. Pug says:

    How does Obama’s being “charismatic” qualify him as that? Wasn’t that Bill Clinton’s shtick?

    You mean that Bill Clinton guy that was elected to the office of President of the United States twice? That guy?

  5. Elmo says:

    T’would be great to be wrong in my Obama prognostication now waay back. But predicting a possible pendulum swing, the other way … because of like minded (but liberal) defeatists?

    I felt in my gut, even further back, a year or more anyway, that Obama had some strong political chops. And absolutely shouldn’t then be underestimated.

    Anti-McCain groups lag in fundraising

    But if the ancillary or surrogate campaigns are gonna have any effect? They most certainly will have to do better than: “We need a new direction, not the McSame old thing.” Much better.

    Will Obama’s feet be shown to be made of clay? November’s still a looong way off.

  6. sam says:

    “Barack Obama: He’s not who you think he is” would be the theme. The supporting evidence would come from his left-wing voting record in Illinois and Washington, spiced up with fun video clips of Reverend Wright.

    They might, I say might, get some traction withthe Wright stuff (yeah), but what makes them think that “his left-wing voting record in Illinois and Washington” will count as a negative with the electorate, 81% percent of whom, I understand, think the country is headed in the wrong direction?

  7. legion says:

    Unless he turns out to be correct.

    Bill Kristol? Right? About anything? Let’s look at just how big a moron BK really is, just using this article (a true accounting could take weeks to wade through)…

    The supporting evidence would come from his left-wing voting record in Illinois and Washington, spiced up with fun video clips of Reverend Wright.

    Umm… painting Obama as ‘left-wing’ won’t really accomplish anything. Hard-left Dems will still vote for him, and hard-right Repubs won’t. Everyone else won’t be at all surprised at the Dem candidate being liberal – show Obama voting against abortion or gay rights and you might have a news story, but not with this weak sauce. And Rev Wright? That tactic was a one-trick pony that has already been tricked out.It failed to gain traction, and bringing the exact same sound bits up 4 months from now will be a (welcome) waste of GOP funds.

    But a surprising number of Democrats with whom I’ve spoken expect a McCain victory.

    I’d be willing to bet money the only Democrats BK knows (or would be willing to speak civilly to him) are actually Dem operatives, not Dem voters. An important difference BK is intellectually incapable of grasping.

    Bill Kristol is a moron. He has a long, long, well-documented history of being completely unable to grasp reality – as glasnost notes, he says whatever will get him paid.