Limping To Victory


To my my Current from yesterday arguing that conservatives shouldn't let the Democratic civil war blind them to the mountain that John McCain still has to climb, I would add that it's also worth pondering Jay Cost's thoughts on the ways in which the primary campaign has actually been "quite helpful for the Democrats," since it has "exposed weaknesses in both campaigns that might not have been identified until October," and "given both an opportunity to strengthen themselves." He writes:

Consider a few examples. We have learned that the Clinton organization was plagued by pro-Clinton myopia. Operating under the assumption that she could not lose, it failed to do everything it could to ensure victory. This included small things like mismanaging Bill, to big things like leaving caucus states unorganized. If Clinton had won Iowa and New Hampshire, knocking Obama out, it might not have discovered its myopia until it was too late. Learning in October that its basic assumptions were fundamentally flawed would have been disastrous.

The Obama campaign has learned several important lessons about "elitism." It has learned that Republicans are quite attracted to this idea. This is a good thing. Now it knows how the Republicans will come after him. Furthermore, thanks to last week's debate, it also knows it must have a better response ready for the GOP. Suppose Obama had won Texas and Ohio, knocking Hillary out. Flash forward to the fall debates, when Obama is asked about William Ayers. Not having the benefit of having been asked in April, he gives a tepid answer like the one he actually gave last week. This time, his debate opponent is not Hillary Clinton, whose spouse pardoned members of the Weather Underground, but John McCain, who was in the Hanoi Hilton when they were engaging in terrorism. Obama would have been in much more jeopardy.

Cost goes on to argue that the problem for the Dems "is not that the campaign has gone on this long. Rather, it is that there is no obvious terminal point," and thus no way to stop the race for dragging on long past the "point at which the benefits to the campaign are outweighed by the costs." I agree, but I also think it's worth pointing out that while the competition has been helpful for the Democrats, the chronology - and the narrative the chronology creates - hasn't been helpful at all. If you're going to have an evenly-matched, hard-fought primary, you want it to stay evenly-matched throughout, with the eventual winner only pulling away at the very end. Or better still, you want the eventual loser to dominate the early going, and the eventual winner to gradually claw their way back into things and then pull ahead at the end, creating a great "comeback kid" narrative to carry into the general election. What you don't want is what the Democrats have now: A dynamic in which the eventual winner - Obama, that is - pulled way ahead in the middle of the campaign, only to have the eventual loser mount a furious comeback that everyone outside her inner circle (and lots of people inside, one imagines) knows is more or less hopeless, but which has succeeded in bloodying the front-runner at precisely the moment when he could be gearing up to use his enormous financial edge to crush John McCain. Cost is right: There's a very real sense in which it's good for Obama to have some of his weaknesses exposed in the primary campaign, rather than in October. But it would have been even better for Obama, and for his party, if those weaknesses had been exposed earlier in the primaries, and if these later weeks were given over to triumph and consolidation, rather than a slow limp to the finish line.

Photo by Flickr user graciepoo used under a Creative Commons license.