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Was the Bailout The Turning Point in the Election?

Given the convincing margin of Obama's victory, it may be that there is no single turning point to the election. But if there is one, I think it was John McCain's decision to go along with the bailout. At the time, I had thought (and from a public policy perspective hoped) that McCain would come out forcefully against the bailout and try to insist on a rewrite of its terms along the lines proposed by the House Republicans at the time. He could have denounced it as too expensive, lacking adequate controls, and an example of the sort of crony capitalism and "business as usual" in Washington that he would oppose. In addition, it would've allowed him to make a firm break with the Bush administration. Polls at the time indicated that would have been a popular position (and the exit polls I've seen suggest that it would still be a popular position today). In addition, even if it was thought necessary (and there is some indication that it was not) the enactment of the bailout did little at the time to staunch the bleeding on Wall Street.

Instead, the event turned into a political debacle for McCain. He interrupted his campaign to "save" the bailout and form a bipartisan consensus. Then, of course, he wasn't even able to do that when the House voted down the initial bailout package, so he looked ineffective on his own terms. Dick Morris also views this as a turning point when the election slipped away from McCain:

Had McCain voted against the bailout of Wall Street firms and backed the Republican alternative, there is no question in my mind that he would have won. After calling attention to his "suspension" of his campaign, McCain compliantly and supinely embraced the Bush bailout backed by the Democrats. America was waiting for him to speak out against excessive government spending and against bailing out Wall Street firms for their greed.

Some will blame the war in Iraq for McCain's defeat. Others will cite the economic crisis. But had McCain had the courage of his convictions, it would have sent a message to all voters that he was determined to change business-as-usual in Washington. By bowing to conventional wisdom, he undid the entire work of his convention and contradicted his message of independence from President Bush. His willingness to vote for the bailout package, earmarks and all, belied his pretensions of independence.

McCain frequently said that he would rather do the right thing than be president. But his vote for the bailout turned out to wrong.

Many have opined that this was a turning point for McCain because what it revealed about his and Obama's respective "styles." I'm not sure about that. Had McCain suspended his campaign and acted decisively and forcefully to oppose the bailout, and Obama remained "cool," I think that the politics of the situation would have been very different. The way in which the bailout was presented to Congress was outrageous and it would've been nice for someone to have said so. Had McCain opposed the bailout, in retrospect he could have been seen as independent and decisive (rather than merely impulsive) and Obama might have been seen as weak, indecisive, and just going along with the Wall Street-Washington establishment. It was the substance, not the style, that made this a turning point in my opinion. The style was secondary, except that McCain's style was so unhinged from the substance--why so much energy wasted just to rubber-stamp the administration's proposal?

Why didn't McCain do this? It is a bit of a puzzle, because I would think that McCain's instinct would have been to be repelled by the expense and cronyism of the bailout. I suspect that it is threefold.

First, McCain simply does not understand economics, did not understand the problem that the bailout was trying to address, nor how the bailout was supposed to address it. And, I've I opined previously, he is not that good at faking it when he doesn't know something. I suspect Obama had no idea what the bailout was all about either, but he came up with some good, empty talking points that were enough to bluff him through.

Second, McCain seems to have made a political calculation on the bailout that the way he could best play it would be to use it as an opportunity to show his ability to form "bipartisan" consensus in a time of crisis. Which was a bad decision, I think. First, it didn't work once the bill failed to pass the House inititially. Second, I'm not sure that it is a good political move to be seen as the leader of a bipartisan consensus on high-profile legislation that is a political turkey (leaving aside the merits).

Third, I think McCain must've bought into the idea that the bailout would work and take the issue off the table. Instead, at the time, there was no indication that the bailout was even working. So it was a political turkey with little policy pay-off. Even worse, by broadcasting his "leadership" on the bill, McCain tied himself both to the Bush administration and to whether the bill would actually work to address the financial crisis at the worst possible time. And this was all based on Hank Paulson's "trust me" approach to the issue. Given the track record of the Bush administration I have no idea why anyone would want to tie themselves to any policy of the Bush administration, much less one based on a "trust me" justification (I recall that approach didn't work out so well with a certain war we got ourselves into). Regardless, it ended up tying McCain to Bush at the worst possible moment, on the worst possible issue, with the worst possible political optics.

All around, I agreed with Dick Morris then and agree with him now that if there was a turning point, that was it. Would McCain have won had he followed Morris's advice? My intuition is that it very well might have. That he didn't seize this opportunity, however, might speak to why McCain lost and what it revealed about why he shouldn't be President. He may be a leader and he may be decisive, but that doesn't mean he actually understands what is good or bad policy to be decisive about.

On the other hand, I'm not sure that the experience told us much about Obama's ability to be President--other than that he was savvy enough to stand back and let McCain drive himself off the cliff. (It is also interesting that Obama coasted when he was elected to the Senate because his opponent self-destructed). Obama did remain cool and above the fray throughout that time. At the same time, one of my biggest concerns at this point is that the flip side of Obama's coolness and desire to form consensus is his possible tendency toward indecisiveness and undue compromise and to avoid being pinned down and taking responsibility for difficult decisions. I'm not sure that his response to the financial crisis provided much insight one way or the other in determing whether he was cool or just indecisive.

Ryan Waxx (mail):

Instead, the event turned into a political debacle for McCain. He interrupted his campaign to "save" the bailout and form a bipartisan consensus. Then, of course, he wasn't even able to do that when the House voted down the initial bailout package, so he looked ineffective on his own terms.


I cannot believe he didn't figure out that "saving the day" required the cooperation of his enemies, and therefore could not possibly happen... regardless of weather it was the right thing for the country or not.

It's one thing to speak about bipartisanship. Its another to believe Nancy Pelosi will let you look good during an election.
11.6.2008 10:07am
FantasiaWHT:
Can I ask a question that's only tangentially related but that I would really like to see addressed?

Why didn't either candidate try to take advantage of the fact that gas is now only around HALF of what it was at its peak in the past year? And that oil is just as low?

The line is incredibly obvious, and I think would have been effective, particularly from McCain - "Look, even the THOUGHT of America drilling for its own oil is enough to make the price plummet"

I'm sure Obama could have come up with something equally as shallow and inane, but the people who are capable of being swayed by stuff like this are too ignorant to recognize the problem with such claims, so I think it really could have had an effect.
11.6.2008 10:08am
JB:
I think this is almost right.

The real turning point came after the bailout failed. It was still not too late to go full policy--McCain could have recovered from this had he proposed a real strategy for economic recovery, explained how his tax plan was better (or more likely to actually happen) without resorting to a travesty of the facts*, and campaigned on "I can solve your problems better than the other guy." Instead, he threw up a bunch of nonsubstantive issues, went negative without explaining his platform, and allowed the negative momentum started by the bailout flub to become an avalanche that swept him away.

Of course, Todd's point that McCain doesn't know economics precluded that. (OTOH, since a major argument in McCain's favor is that he would have surrounded himself with better advisors had he been elected, one wonders where those better advisors were. The fact that McCain didn't rely on sufficiently smart people in October suggests that he would not have over the next 4 years).

*Obama may raise taxes, but his plan as stated would not. Without coming out and saying "You will not actually implement your plan," McCain was left arguing either (a) Obama's tax cut, by being less extensive than McCain's, is a tax increase, or (b) Obama's tax cut is in fact a tax increase, both of which are sophistic and specious.
11.6.2008 10:10am
Ex parte McCardle:
Nice to see the counterfactual scenarios descending in full force (cf. "If only Pickett's Charge had been sent three hours earlier..."]. A talker on local craze-o radio here in Atlanta asserted, apparently in all seriousness, that if Sarah Palin had been the nominee, rather than McCain, "she would have destroyed Obama." This individual claimed that Palin would have received at least 450 electoral votes.

When bailout-palooza was going on, Dick Morris was being interviewed on Fox News and was asked if McCain's "suspension" of his campaign was a stunt. Morris's answer: "Yes, and it's succeeding brilliantly." Tell me again, why we should attend to what Dick Morris says?
11.6.2008 10:10am
Justin (mail):
If Dick Morris said it, it must be true.

Look, McCain was losing from start to finish except for a 2 week period after his selection of Sarah Palin, which was the only period in which he was able to please his Republican-loving base without offending the Republican-hating swing voters. Once people found out that Palin had flaws, the Republican convention bounce faded quick and Obama was well on his way to regaining the lead when the market collapsed. At that point, we know now, the election was already over.

As a result, these counterfactual scenarios are an indulgement in reality avoidance, especcially for prognosticators like Dick Morris who don't want to admit how wrong they were.
11.6.2008 10:20am
Cornellian (mail):
This individual claimed that Palin would have received at least 450 electoral votes.

Now that would be a performance for the record books.
11.6.2008 10:20am
Justin (mail):
Alternative response: No.

This has been another installment of Atrios's simple answers to simple questions.
11.6.2008 10:21am
Cornellian (mail):
In my view, the things that killed his campaign were

1) Choosing Palin, thereby (as Krauthammer pointed out) undercutting his strongest argument against Obama, that experience matters. That she turned out to be almost totally clueless was just icing on the cake for Obama

2) Economic crisis - that really hammers you as the party of the incumbent no matter what you say or do - very hard to recover from that
11.6.2008 10:23am
Houston Lawyer:
There was no way the credit market freeze-up and financial panic was ever going to work in McCain's favor. The timing of this crisis was a huge gift to Obama. If the world appears to be going to Hell in a handbasket, that has to work in favor of the "outside" party.

McCain's panic was real. He and many others thought that something had to be done. Obama, on the other hand, could just sit back and cooly watch the meltdown knowing all along that the worse it appeared, the better for his election prospects.
11.6.2008 10:24am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Ref. McCain.
He seems to be enthralled with bipartisanship for its own sake. I am not sure I know, or know of anybody who does, the details of the wonderfulness of the results in terms of legislation. When Bush does it, he gets rolled, so I don't see dems doing McCain any better.
Maybe he should have been less interested in the good opinion of those not fit to clean his pool. I speak of dem legislators.

Obama and responsibility.
Most people would rather have a full-body case of poison ivy than take responsibility for practically anything.
When I was in OCS, there were guys who had it all together in every sense who would, toward the end, simply resign and revert to enlisted status. Their reason was that they didn't want to be the one to decide who dies today.
Maybe you have to be a little bit nuts to think that's an okay part of the package of being commissioned.
Still, if you need a platoon leader, you need somebody who's willing to make that call.
Obama not only hasn't, he's actively avoided any responsibility.
Is he viscerally afraid, or is he calculating the political results? And if the latter, is he willing to let things go to hell in order to avoid having his fingerprints on something partisans can hype to use against him? Yes. Sorry I bothered to ask.
11.6.2008 10:24am
Moonage Webdream (mail) (www):

When bailout-palooza was going on, Dick Morris was being interviewed on Fox News and was asked if McCain's "suspension" of his campaign was a stunt. Morris's answer: "Yes, and it's succeeding brilliantly." Tell me again, why we should attend to what Dick Morris says?


Very simple. The initial reaction was positive. It was only when the House rejected the initial bailout and McCain's response to that sequence of events made him appear ineffective and confused. Secondly, it exposed a naive notion McCain had pushed to that point that his bipartisan history would carry through the election cycle. If it had passed on the first vote, his stunt would have probably not affected anything at all. So, at the time Morris said it, he was correct. What he said when things looked different is correct as well. The reason you should attend to what Dick Morris said is because he was dead-on accurate through the full sequence of events and only by taking his comments out of text in regards to what was happening and when can you make the point that Morris was contradicting himself. I was saying the exact same things as Morris at the same time as well. It was not his reaction to the bailout bill that sunk him, it was his reaction when the first vote failed and the highly inferior pork riddled Senate substitute was introduced. At that point McCain had the chance to assure all conervatives and Republicans that he believed in their core values of smaller less intrusive government and completely fell on his face. If he had voted against that substitute bill, the results might have been different.
11.6.2008 10:24am
Donny:
According to the exits, 60% decided before Sept., and they were split 52/47 for Obama. And if you'll look at the polling, the change began after the Couric interview, not Lehman.

I think the VP revealing herself to be dumber than a box of rocks might have been the real tipping point. See, e.g., http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWZHTJsR4Bc
11.6.2008 10:25am
Blue:
It takes a true reality-distortion field to argue that the VP selection was more important than the economic crisis in destroying McCain's chances. The fact of the matter is that Palin was a net positive for McCain--few of those who hated here were going to vote for McCain in the first place and she fired up the base.
11.6.2008 10:28am
geokstr:
Many conservatives have been extremely critical of McCain over his lack of a stand against the bailout since a few days after the "crisis" hit. I agree that he had an issue that was backed by a huge majority of the population in the palm of his hand and then dropped it, no, more like drop-kicked it.

Geez, he didn't even have the stones or the brains to at least symbolically oppose the bill that was finally passed when it was larded with pork, supposedly one of his own pet issues.

"Why didn't either candidate try to take advantage of the fact that gas is now only around HALF of what it was at its peak in the past year? And that oil is just as low?"

What's even more suspicious to me is, just as the republicans were beginning to get a lot of traction with the concerns over $4/gallon gas with "drill baby drill", the price drops precipitously and the issue goes away. Just another coincidence in the charmed political life of Obama, like the conveniently timed leaking of legally sealed divorce records of his election opponents?

I suppose you could buy into the theory that the effect of the financial "crisis" was so severe that the public and every business that uses gasoline (which is like, EVERYBODY), cut back so severely because of the "crisis" that a massive decline in demand brought down the price. In only a matter of weeks, no less, and just in time to emasculate the pro-drilling advantage to Palin/McCain.

On the other hand, is it just a coincidence that the other side of the equation, supply, is being ignored? Especially when a number of oil-rich countries led by those actively rooting for Obama had the capacity to increase production that could have also accounted for the drop in price?

Does someone out there know of any sites where stats on very recent production of oil by country is available?
11.6.2008 10:29am
Mahan Atma (mail):
How can anyone characterize it as a "tipping point" when Obama was consistently ahead in the polls, except for a brief period right after the Republican convention when they were tied.
11.6.2008 10:29am
Duffy Pratt (mail):
McCain tried to put Obama in a box. Either he could come to Washington after McCain and look like a follower, or he could stay on his campaign and look like he didn't care about the crisis. It turned out that things weren't so simple and Obama wiggled out. Whether that was the turning point or not, I have no idea.

I tend to think the turning point was way, way beforehand, like about the New Hampshire primary. The Republican base never liked McCain, but they didn't like anyone else either. The Dems and Independents all liked McCain, but not enough to actually vote for the guy.
11.6.2008 10:30am
Mahan Atma (mail):
"I cannot believe he didn't figure out that "saving the day" required the cooperation of his enemies


If by "enemies" you mean "House Republicans". I do believe it was them who voted against it.
11.6.2008 10:31am
Chico's Bail Bonds (mail):
The fundamentals of our economy our sound.
11.6.2008 10:33am
JWG (mail):
Yes, the bailout brou-haha was definitely the tipping point. Paulson deserves a lot of the credit for Obama's election with his impeccable timing for launching the crisis. If Paulson had done this a couple of months earlier, when it was presumably clear to him that the earlier Bear Stearns bailout had failed, McCain would have had more time to deal with the crisis. The shelf life of any crisis is a couple of months anyway.
11.6.2008 10:38am
Kevin P. (mail):
From Exit poll results


Four in 10 voters overall said Palin was an important factor in deciding whom to vote for, and this group was about as likely to vote for Obama as McCain. But nine in 10 Republicans calling Palin's selection important were voting for McCain.


So, Palin was a net wash overall, but she energized the Republican base. Without her, I suspect that many Republican voters, never thrilled about McCain would have stayed at home and he would not have come as close to Obama as he did.
11.6.2008 10:38am
Kevin P. (mail):
I agree that McCain's performance during the bailout was very weak and damaging.
11.6.2008 10:38am
RainerK:
Good points, Todd! Anecdotally all those of my friends and acquaintances intending to vote for McCain, people who have been watching their finances and paying their mortgages, are furious over the bailout of so-called homeowners at the public's expense. Then McCain even on the day before the election comes out forcefully to "keep people in their homes". Sounded totally populist and most likely turned a bunch of voters off.

geokstr:
Not only did the gas price issue go away, it also made clear that it was a bubble caused not by a lack of supply but by speculation. A further big nail in the Republican coffin. I don't think a 50% drop in price can be explained by a decline in demand or increase in supply.
11.6.2008 10:39am
TRE:
The Couric interview was happening at the same time as the bailout was taking shape. I was felt sick.
11.6.2008 10:40am
arg11 (mail):
I think you have it backwards. The bailout wasn't the turning point, because Obama was the expected winner at that point. It could have been the turning point had McCain capitalized on it by coming out against it.
11.6.2008 10:41am
Mahan Atma (mail):
"I suppose you could buy into the theory that the effect of the financial "crisis" was so severe that the public and every business that uses gasoline (which is like, EVERYBODY), cut back so severely because of the "crisis" that a massive decline in demand brought down the price."


First, why put "crisis" in quotes? You don't think there's really a financial crisis?

Second, you don't seem to understand how the oil markets work. Price changes don't immediately track changes in demand or supply because oil is bought with futures. Short-term movements in price are largely driven by traders' psychology, and they were simply anticipating the economic slowdown (and possibly serious deflation).

But don't take my word for it, there are hard numbers measuring the supply of oil. Google is your friend.
11.6.2008 10:42am
Mahan Atma (mail):
"So, Palin was a net wash overall, but she energized the Republican base. Without her, I suspect that many Republican voters, never thrilled about McCain would have stayed at home and he would not have come as close to Obama as he did."


But McCain could have selected someone else to bring out the base (e.g. Huckabee) without alienating everyone else.

Also, it was a huge mistake to stoke the culture war in a country where whites, Christians, and the older cohorts are an ever-shrinking group.

Next time you declare culture war, you'd better count your numbers first.
11.6.2008 10:46am
MLS:
It is a matter of record that Obama did vote "Yea", as did McCain, for the legislation that was eventually enacted. I have not been able to find any record of how each of them voted on the initial package.

Curious that McCain was skewered for his vote(s), but Obama apparently was not.
11.6.2008 10:47am
Anderson (mail):
I think the VP revealing herself to be dumber than a box of rocks might have been the real tipping point.

Uh, *yeah*.

Not to mention that Palin's defenders made themselves look like a box of rocks. A phenomenon that continues to this day.

Without her, I suspect that many Republican voters, never thrilled about McCain would have stayed at home

Respectfully, that is nonsense. The GOP has always dated and dumped the base, and the base has never gotten any smarter. "THIS time he really loves me," says the base.

THAT IS WHY MCCAIN LOST. He fell for the notion that he had to keep on courting the base once he had the nomination sewn up. He never tacked to the center, or at most, did so in the last week of the campaign. Too late.

The base would not have "stayed home." Not with reminders that The Scary Black Liberal Named Hussein was on the verge of ending America as we know it. Those reminders were supposed to come from surrogates on right-wing media that most center/independent/apathetic voters never see or hear. NOT from the two candidates.

A truly, truly incompetent campaign, one that sealed any doubt in my mind as to McCain's own incompetence to lead (much as with Hillary's terrible campaign).
11.6.2008 10:48am
Fallacious Opinion (mail):
When people look for a single reason for a systemic failure, they are going to delude themselves. McCain was doing poorly before his convention: Palin resuscitated the ratings for a while, but it would have taken more substance than she was able to muster to keep that infatuation going.

The timeframe of the bailout bill might have let McCain springboard from the temporary rise in his numbers that his Trilby gave him, but he failed.

I think he failed for two reasons: circumstances in that situation were utterly and firmly against him, and he lacked the wisdom to accept his situation. His campaign "suspension" was late into the process, and something of a joke. His input into the process was minimal, and his fellow Republicans did nothing that would give McCain popular credit for their role in the resolution.

Worse, the initial failure of passage gave even members of his party the opportunity to decorate that bill with earmark ornaments like a Christmas Tree. Nothing attracts the sort of behavior that McCain campaigned against, like "must pass" legislation.

He could not campaign AGAINST the bill, and succeed. He could not campaign for it, and not be hammerlocked by personal inconsistency.

But to return to my thesis, it was not a failure that doomed his chances (that were otherwise good), but a missed opportunity to arrest the slide back to his pre-convention numbers. The timing was just coincidental.
11.6.2008 10:50am
Robert West (mail) (www):
After the second debate I started telling my friends that if Sen. Obama had a superpower, it would be making his opponents self-destruct.
11.6.2008 10:51am
Ben P:

Not only did the gas price issue go away, it also made clear that it was a bubble caused not by a lack of supply but by speculation. A further big nail in the Republican coffin. I don't think a 50% drop in price can be explained by a decline in demand or increase in supply.



Well... yeah, more or less.


I think there's quite a bit to be said about demand and marginal pricing though. The supply of oil is relatively controlled, and it's purchased generally in several month long futures contracts.

When prices spiked mid summer (as they usually tend to in the summer) Demand took a big hit. A lot of people came to the conclusion "this time it's for real."

Then you add in the fact that the economy was tanking, which cuts demand further, and factor in a couple months lag in the price in addition to the usual drop between July and October of any given year, and you've got the stage pretty well set for a rather large decline in oil prices.
11.6.2008 10:52am
alkali (mail):
Here's my extremely reductive analysis of how McCain misread the situation:

The White House, the Senate Dems, the Senate GOP, and the House Dems were ready to do the bailout. The House GOP opposed it. The WH/SD/SG/HD were prepared to steamroll the House GOP to get the bailout done. When McCain inserted himself into the situation, he made himself the hostage of the House GOP and thereby created paralysis. McCain could not tell the House GOP to get lost, or they'd blow up his campaign. The White House and the Senate GOP could not longer deal harshly with the House GOP because they were now tied to McCain. The deal finally got done the following week when McCain extracted himself from that dynamic.

FWIW, I supported the bailout.
11.6.2008 10:55am
trad and anon (mail):
I call pundit's fallacy. The number of people who manage to convince themselves that their

In any case, the question isn't when the turning point was, but when McCain's chances for victory went from low to infinitesimal. And that was the financial crisis in September.
11.6.2008 10:56am
MartyA:
There you go again, thinking rationally! THIS ELECTION WAS STOLEN!! The "swing" voters are fewer than half a million. You can calculate the districts in which the count could have gone the other way and check registrations/populations.
Inner city ballot boxes were stuffed, ACORNers voted multiple times and all were funded by Obama-Mugabe's illegal campaign contributions.
The anti-American media will write this off as the few egg shells that must be cracked to make an omelet but 2008 election fraud deserves study.
11.6.2008 10:58am
Seamus (mail):
Second, McCain seems to have made a political calculation on the bailout that the way he could best play it would be to use it as an opportunity to show his ability to form "bipartisan" consensus in a time of crisis.

There was no "calculation." McCain isn't capable of "calculation." He believes in his bones that bipartisanship is the way to go, and that the bailout was the right thing to do. He was no more capable of "com[ing] out forcefully against the bailout and try[ing] to insist on a rewrite of its terms along the lines proposed by the House Republicans at the time" than he was of campaigning in Chinese.
11.6.2008 10:58am
Bart (mail):
You could have a point.

McCain comfortably led prior to the bailout.

The GOP grassroots loathed and fought the bailout.

McCain embraced the bailout while Obama ran for the tall grass.

Obama took a lead he never relinquished.

The exit polls indicate that the Dem portion of the vote was the same as 1996 and 2000 at 39%, but the GOP vote stayed home - falling from 37% in 2004 to 32% this year.
11.6.2008 10:59am
trad and anon (mail):
Oops, that should have been:

I call pundit's fallacy. The number of people who manage to convince themselves that the path to electoral success is for politicians to advocate the speaker's preferred policies never ceases to astound me. Especially when the speaker is someone like Prof. Zywicki whose views are way off on the fringes of the American political spectrum.
11.6.2008 10:59am
Cactus Jack:

"McCain simply . . . did not understand the problem that the bailout was trying to address, nor how the bailout was supposed to address it."

In all fairness to McCain, most everyone else in Congress suffered this same affliction. Bernanke and Paulson each did a substandard job of articulating (1) the underlying economic problems they were solving for with TARP, (2) how those problems were connected to the larger issues in our economy, and (3) how TARP would solve those problems.
11.6.2008 11:03am
MarkField (mail):
I agree with Anderson. It's disturbing for me to believe this, but I think McCain could have won if he had run a competent campaign, which includes nominating a competent VP.
11.6.2008 11:03am
Jim Hu:
I suspect he thought the bailout was the right thing to do, despite the larding of the final bill. So it was an opportunity to take a cynical political position on an important economic issue for political gain. That he did not do so is a positive for McCain, but so small a positive that it was overwhelmed by the appearance of desperation from the suspension gambit, the bad timing of his "fundamentals are strong" comments, and the underlying problem for any GOP candidate taking any position or not when the crisis hit with an R president.

That doesn't mean that it was cynical on the part of all of those who opposed it, of course.
11.6.2008 11:12am
Constantin:
The scapegoating of Palin kills me. First, for every YouTube video of her stumbling, I'll raise you ten of Obama stammering through some incoherent mess (the "inhalator" one comes to mind immediately) during the general election.

Second, McCain was in a no-win situation. Pick Pawlenty and he's mocked for going all in with white guys against the first black nominee. Pick Huckabee and it's that plus the religous nut angle. Pick Romney and you have both of thus, plus the fact that he and McCain hate each other. Pick Lieberman and he's essentially abandoned the GOP altogether. Pick Charlie Crist and there's a media a storm that would make Palin look like a walk in the park (some of you know what I mean).

I challenge anyone here who claims Palin was decisive in their vote against McCain to tell me who he could have picked that would have changed your mind, and still kept him viable.
11.6.2008 11:12am
Alan Gunn (mail):
It might be more accurate to put it this way: If McCain had had a shot, opposing the bailout might have turned the thing around. (And, as in a wonderful story of Thurbur's, if Grant had been drinking at Appomattox, he might have surrendered to Lee.)
11.6.2008 11:13am
RebelRenegade:
Look at the RCP averages and then compare that with the Lehman bankruptcy date. McCain had made up a lot of ground over the summer and was tied or ahead of Obama in some polls. It all went downhill after the Lehman BK. Republicans looked foolish for declaring the economy fundamentally sound (even though they were fundamentally right at the time) with that happening. McCain's handling of the bailout situation certainly didn't help. Maybe he could've made the final electoral tally closer, but having that R next to his name at a time when the Rs were in power during the financial crisis didn't help him at all.
11.6.2008 11:13am
LN (mail):
I tend to think that people dramatically overstate the importance of political campaigns. For one thing, elections tend to be decided by swing voters, and very few people who opine on elections are anything close to swing voters.

That said, as a Democrat I was quite baffled by McCain's pandering to the Republican base during the general election. Before the election McCain was quite popular with the press, as well as with independents and some Democrats. If I were him I would have fabricated some relatively unimportant issues so that he could appear quite different from Bush, and I would have stuck to a consistent theme throughout the election (McCain = leader, Obama = inexperienced, which means no picking Palin, and actually finding ways to demonstrate leadership). But who knows if that would have made a difference.
11.6.2008 11:18am
Syd Henderson (mail):

MLS:
It is a matter of record that Obama did vote "Yea", as did McCain, for the legislation that was eventually enacted. I have not been able to find any record of how each of them voted on the initial package.

Curious that McCain was skewered for his vote(s), but Obama apparently was not.


Not curious at all. McCain very loudly wanted to postpone the first debate so he could rush to Washington to help put together the bailout. He identified himself with the bailout in a way Obama never did.

The tipping point was on September 14 when McCain was saying the fundamentals of the economy were sound at the moment we learned about Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Obama immediately seized that moment and McCain never recovered. In fact, he made it worse by trying to postpone the debate, and never made a decision that worked after that.
11.6.2008 11:18am
Snaphappy:
Thanks trad.

McCain's "suspend the campaign" and "save the economy" blunder was just one of a series of missteps and missed opportunities on the road to defeat. I don't see how anyone can say McCain's decision to go along with the bailout was the tipping point when his campaign suspension was shown to be a fraud when he 1) didn't actually suspend anything on Wednesday when he announced it; 2) didn't rush to Washington; 3) didn't show any leadership when he got there; and 4) showed up at the debate anyway. At that point, the story of McCain and the bailout was told. That he took credit on Saturday for a bill that failed on Monday and eventually went along with the bloated second bill probably made no difference. The damage was done Friday night.

Really, rather than looking for the one thing McCain did wrong, can anyone point to a single example of something McCain did unquestionably right during the campaign? His concession speech, which was his best moment of the campaign, doesn't count.
11.6.2008 11:19am
jgshapiro (mail):
I think Todd is largely correct, but not entirely.

McCain's only advantage over Obama was that he had experience. McCain's pitch was to parlay the experience into the theme that McCain would be better in a crisis. That is hard to prove though, because he has never been an executive, so he didn't have a crisis to point to. And he wasn't having much luck pointing out his ability to forge compromise by pointing to his record in the senate on controversial issues.

But then he got a break. An actual crisis, of historic magnitude, right in the middle of the election when people were still making up their minds. Had he been able to take a strong position and make something out of it, he could have said: here is yet an other example of why you want me in that chair. While I was solving a crisis, Obama was once again voting 'present'.

Instead, by getting nothing done and seeming downright confused and at times desperate on the subject, he looked erratic, which played right into Obama's theme: I have the judgment and temperament; he doesn't.

I don't think the financial melt down was a liability for McCain. I think it was an incredible opportunity that he wasted. Obama was always going to win this thing unless McCain pulled a rabbit out of the hat. He was handed the hat, but he threw it away.
11.6.2008 11:19am
Fishbulb:
McCain was probably afraid that if he didn't vote for the bailout he'd be accused of doing nothing to forestall economic collapse. That sounds now like playing not to lose instead of playing to win, but you have to realize that at the time he was ahead and had the momentum. He didn't want to appear negative and obstructionist, regardless of the merits of the bill. The bailout's what was on the table, and they probably felt a "just let it burn instead" argument was more toxic than the bailout itself.
11.6.2008 11:21am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Palin's brain or lack of it is obviously completely irrelevant.
If the brainpower of VP choices were important, Obama would have lost.
11.6.2008 11:23am
geokstr:
Mahan Atma:

First, why put "crisis" in quotes? You don't think there's really a financial crisis?

No, of course there is a "crisis". However, as was also hinted at by another commenter above, I have wondered from the beginning about the convenient timing of it.

The housing bubble was fueled by huge demand for new housing due to the massive increase in mortgage money made available through aggressive liberal policies of forcing lending to millions of bad credit risks. But it was predicted that the bubble would burst for years, so why precisely now, just 8 weeks before the election? If it happens a couple months earlier, the political ramifications would have likely been sorted out by now, and couple months later, no effect at all. I would bet that Frank and Dodd and Paulson and lots of others knew far before September that Fannie and Freddie were very shakey.

I am in no way a conspiracy nut, but given all the conveniently timed lucky breaks in Obama's entire political career that somehow decimate the opponents just in time to help him, I have to wonder. I have attempted to google for a reason that this all broke precisely when it did but have been unsuccessful. Perhaps the brain trust here could enlighten me, and not just with vague reasons like "Fannie and Freddie had to be taken over". Why exactly in mid-September and not July, or December? Did their credit status get suddenly downgraded by Moody's that week? Did they default on some outstanding debt? Was there an unfavorable audit report that week? An stockholder or creditor lawsuit? What event precipitated it?

You don't get out of bed one morning and just decide to take over organizations that size because, well, I just feel like doing it today.

????
11.6.2008 11:26am
Constantin:
McCain was ahead post-GOP convention because (1) everyone gets a bounce from their convention and (2) it was the one time during the campaign, to that point, that he was able to make his case directly to voters without the filter of the pathetically biased media. This latter situation was replicated during the debates; no surprise that the aftermath of the third one saw McCain make up some ground.

McCain acted like a fool during the bailout, and should have voted against it. But it didn't really matter what he did, short of just conceding, he would have caught hell for it.
11.6.2008 11:29am
Constantin:
Perhaps the brain trust here could enlighten me, and not just with vague reasons like "Fannie and Freddie had to be taken over". Why exactly in mid-September and not July, or December? Did their credit status get suddenly downgraded by Moody's that week? Did they default on some outstanding debt? Was there an unfavorable audit report that week? An stockholder or creditor lawsuit? What event precipitated it?

Ditto re: Lehman. If someone could answer this (not from a conspiracy angle, I'm just curious) I'd appreciate it.
11.6.2008 11:31am
Mahan Atma (mail):
"McCain comfortably led prior to the bailout."


No, he didn't.

Here's the polling trend.

Going all the way back to May (when the polls were meaningless), Obama was ahead in the polls at all times save for a very brief period right after the Republican convention, when McCain's lead averaged one point or so (well within the margin of error).
11.6.2008 11:33am
TerrencePhilip:
I think Todd is correct that opposing the bailout would have gained McCain some votes. However had he opposed it, he would have gained some conservative support but the congressional moderates and liberals were overwhelmingly for it, so he would've looked like he was powerless even to command Republican congresscritters.

On the other hand, the several days bad press he got from that might have washed away when the bailout became more unpopular and seemed ineffective . . .

McCain was never going to win this election. He had too much baggage from Bush to carry. And the campaign revealed his worst qualities- his erratic behavior, his bitter side.
Oh, and so much for being the media's favorite Republican for 20 years, mainly because he bucked his own party-- once he became the standard bearer they turned on him like wolves. I think that genuinely surprised him.

But I agree that if there ever was a chance the financial crisis finished him off.
11.6.2008 11:35am
Mahan Atma (mail):
"The housing bubble was fueled by huge demand for new housing due to the massive increase in mortgage money made available through aggressive liberal policies of forcing lending to millions of bad credit risks."


Please... I don't want to turn this into another thread on the mortgage crisis, but this is a ridiculous caricature of the problem.

"But it was predicted that the bubble would burst for years, so why precisely now, just 8 weeks before the election?"


For anyone who wasn't living under a rock, it was obvious that the banking crisis has been underway for many months, at the very least dating back to August '07 (or March '07 if you were watching more closely).
11.6.2008 11:39am
David Warner:
TZ,

McCain didn't oppose the bailout full-stop because he thought, along with a great many people across the political spectrum, that doing so could have disastrous consequences for the Country. The political benefits of opposition were obvious. But he put Country First.

McCain lost this election when Barack Obama accepted the nomination of the Democratic Party. The only time this was in doubt was the brief interlude when it looked like a small town mayor might rattle him. When he showed that he could ably defend himself, unlike the current occupant of the White House, the election was his.
11.6.2008 11:44am
Tom952 (mail):
I challenge anyone here who claims Palin was decisive in their vote against McCain to tell me who he could have picked that would have changed your mind, and still kept him viable.

Giuliani or John Kasich would have changed my mind.
11.6.2008 11:45am
A.S.:
The bailout wasn't the main cause of McCain's defeat, the Lehman bankruptcy was.

One merely needs to review the polling evidence to understand this to be the case. On September 14, 2008, which is 10 days after the Republican National Convention - enough time for a bounce to substantially wear off, McCain was ahead by more than 2%. On September 15, 2008, Lehman announced its bankruptcy. McCain's poll standing fell steadily from September 15 through October 15 - in aggregate, McCain lost 10% (from up 2% to down 8%). Between October 15 and election day, the polling remained in a narrow band - Obama lead continuously by 6%- 8%.

The trigger date for McCain's steady decline was September 15 - before that date, McCain had been leading by at least 2% for 6 days, and after that date McCain steadily lost ground. Accordingly, claims that the Couric-Palin interview triggered McCain's decline are not supported by the evidence. The interview took place on September 24, by which date Obama was already leading by 3.5 points. Accordingly, McCain had already lost more than half of the 10% he ultimately lost between September 15 and October 15 prior to the interview.
11.6.2008 11:45am
Mahan Atma (mail):
Let me add one other reason why McCain lost: Some guy named Obama.

I realize this is incomprehensible to most of the folks here, but a lot of voters thought he was clearly the superior candidate. He is extremely intelligent. He has a very calm and cool demeanor. He picked his campaign managers very wisely, so it was run like a Swiss clock. And he is also an incredibly inspiring speaker.

You can make fun of his charisma all you want, but maybe it's something to think about next time you pick a candidate...
11.6.2008 11:46am
A.S.:
BTW, all numbers in the above post taken from the RCP average.
11.6.2008 11:47am
Sean O'Hara (mail) (www):
The bailout is certainly when I decided to go with a third party.
11.6.2008 11:49am
geokstr:

For anyone who wasn't living under a rock, it was obvious that the banking crisis has been underway for many months, at the very least dating back to August '07 (or March '07 if you were watching more closely).

I am well aware of that, as I stated in my comments. The insults are not appreciated.

However, it only became a huge issue to the voting public 8 weeks before the election, with the announcement of the takeover of Fannie and Freddie. That was what my question was about - the timing of the major event that may have been the final straw in McCain's election chances. It is not off topic of the OP. If you can't answer that question, please just say so.
11.6.2008 11:49am
geokstr:
If alternatively, it was the Lehman bankruptcy that you think was the tipping point, again, what precipated it? Bad audit, shareholder/creditor lawsuit, other? In any event, I think the Lehman and Fannie/Freddie issues were pretty much right on top of each other.
11.6.2008 11:55am
LN (mail):

But it was predicted that the bubble would burst for years, so why precisely now, just 8 weeks before the election? If it happens a couple months earlier, the political ramifications would have likely been sorted out by now, and couple months later, no effect at all.


geokstr, I think you are filtering a lot of information through political lens. Remember:

1) Our current President, George W Bush, is a Republican, and he has been responsible for all the various appointments in the executive branch, including that of James Lockhart III, the man who placed Freddie and Fannie into conservatorship. Lockhart was originally appointed by Bush as Deputy Commissioner of the Social Security Administration back in 2002.

2) The housing market actually peaked back in 2006. The bubble did not suddenly pop right before the election. The credit crunch began back in 2007; the TED spread originally spiked back in July 2007; the stock market started seriously dropping a few months later; in the UK, Northern Rock was nationalized back in February 2008; Bear Stearns was bailed out by the US government back in March 2008.

3) In the last few weeks, several banks around the world have been nationalized; Iceland the country appears to be completely bankrupt; a trillion-dollar insurance company needed to be bailed out by the government. Why did Lehman Brothers go bankrupt in September, and not earlier? Why did AIG stock drop 60% on one day in September, and not earlier? Because some people really wanted Barack Obama to be President? Yes we can?
11.6.2008 11:56am
Mahan Atma (mail):
"However, it only became a huge issue to the voting public 8 weeks before the election..."


What evidence do you have for this?

And why focus your attention on Fannie and Freddie, when they were responsible for such a small percentage of the problem loans? Countrywide collapsed back in January. IndyMac and Bear Stearns collapsed in early July.

Also, I suspect stock market movements had a lot to do with the public's attention. People don't like watching their 401k's plummet in value. But that timing is not the same as the bank collapse timing.
11.6.2008 11:59am
LN (mail):
Furthermore, I don't think individual voters particularly cared about Freddie Mac or Fannie Mae or Lehman Brothers or AIG. What they cared about was their 401k's dropping through the floor.
11.6.2008 12:00pm
Angus:
The entire premise of the question is crooked. It makes multiple assumptions, none of which are established as fact.

#1. That the bailout was destined to fail, and already has. This is not at all clear. Yes, the stock market has fallen considerably, but this was not a stock market bailout.

#2. McCain supported the bailout just for political reasons, rather than because it was the right thing to do. Therefore, he should have voted against it because that would have given him greater political advantage.

#3. That the bailout was deeply opposed by most of the American people. Some polls put the number of supporters and opponents roughly equal, but even the ones that found more opposition usually had it around 30% for, 40% against, and 30% undecided. This isn't as clear cut of a political winner as people make it out to be.
11.6.2008 12:05pm
David Warner:
Mahan,

"I realize this is incomprehensible to most of the folks here, but a lot of voters thought he was clearly the superior candidate. He is extremely intelligent. He has a very calm and cool demeanor. He picked his campaign managers very wisely, so it was run like a Swiss clock. And he is also an incredibly inspiring speaker."

Most? Doubtful. Most could very much comprehend it. They just didn't entirely agree. I do. Also see.
11.6.2008 12:14pm
Anderson (mail):
once he became the standard bearer they turned on him like wolves.

No. Once he embraced the *platform* they turned on him.
11.6.2008 12:19pm
JDolan:
I find that the original post resonates with my decision making process this election. Prior to the bailout I was planning on voting for McCain (not happily but he would have gotten my vote). However, McCain's behavior during the bailout turned me completely off both in style and substance though mostly substance and I ended up voting independent simply because I could not stomach giving him my vote. Anyway, take my n of 1 experience for what its worth as I have no idea how much it affected others...
11.6.2008 12:23pm
David Drake:
As Candidate Bill Clinton said "It's the economy, stupid." The MSM had been calling the economy as in a recession all year. It finally came true. People vote their pocketbooks and, when the economy is bad, it favors the party out of power.

That being said, I do NOT hope that President Obama mishandles the economy and keeps us in a recession for the next four and a half years.
11.6.2008 12:30pm
A.S.:
BTW - I find it extremely odd that this post does not make reference to the specifics of the exit polls questions about the bailout. Here's what the exit poll says:

$700 billion to failing financial companies:
Strongly support (9%): Obama-62%, McCain-36%
Somewhat support (30%): Obama-58%, McCain-41%
Somewhat oppose (27%): Obama-53%, McCain-45%
Strongly oppose (29%): Obama-46%, McCain-50%


So, McCain actually won voters who strongly oppose the bailout, while Obama won voters who support the bailout.
11.6.2008 12:32pm
alkali (mail):
Looking at this another way:

1. In the very short term, the bailout helped, and things would have gotten much worse quickly had it not been passed. (I think you can agree with this even if you oppose the bailout. Even if you think the bailout is a pricey Band-Aid that will prove disastrous in the medium- to long-term, or if you think that the bailout is a bad idea for other reasons -- e.g., it's not a proper use of government money -- it seems to me almost beyond dispute that writing a very big check very fast at least made economic conditions in the very short term look better than they otherwise would have.)

2. Had McCain, as his party's nominee, firmly opposed the bailout, there is a very good chance it would not have passed.

3. Supposing, then, that McCain opposed the bailout, and had it not passed for that reason, and things got much worse before Election Day, it is hard to imagine how he would have won. The best case for McCain would have been, "By stopping the bailout which the Democrats and the Administration's own Treasury secretary favored, I've actually prevented some future alternative to the present economic problems which would have been much worse." Even if 100% true, that would have been an incredibly hard sell to voters.
11.6.2008 12:32pm
CJColucci:
So McCain might have won if he had:

1. Known a damn thing about economics

2. Taken a different position than he did on the bailout

3. Been able to explain to the American people why that position was superior, and

4. Not run around like a chicken with its head cut off, calling into question his leadership quialities and basic stability.

That's all it would have taken.
11.6.2008 12:40pm
starrydeceases:
McCain suspending his campaign was the right thing to do.

I think it's shameful that Obama elected to leave McCain dangling in the wind for political advantage. McCain, despite all his many, many faults, understood what so many people in this country are failing to understand--namely, that there was, and is, virtually *zero* chance that Congress would not allocate vast amounts of taxpayer money to bail out the greedy bastards who caused this problem, and that knowing that the consequences of this bailout will be borne by the next administration, whatever its persuasion, thought it might be a good idea if he and Obama could attempt to exert some guidance over the situation.

What sunk McCain in this election was McCain's bipolar desires to please too many people too much of the time. It's no more complicated than that.

What going to sink the US is the fact that we have so many young and uninformed Kool-Aid drinkers who are completely blind to the fact that they just voted in a man who has no substance whatsoever. The only record Obama has is of back-pedaling and hypocrisy on practically every issue he has expressed a view upon. Sure, he can talk a good game, but he's got nothing to back up his puerile sloganeering of "Hope" and "Change", and his favorite inspiring quote comes from an animated children's television show. Well, I just hope *he* changes into somebody with some real backbone.

Obama has the potential to be a truly great man, rather than just giving the superficial appearance of one, but he's going to have to stand up for a principle or two to get there.
11.6.2008 12:44pm
Mahan Atma (mail):
"McCain suspending his campaign was the right thing to do."


If you believe this, then you should be even more critical of McCain, because he didn't actually suspend his campaign. His ads continued to run on TV. His surrogates continued to campaign for him. And he did in fact show up for the debate.

More importantly, he didn't actually do anything to further any solution to the problem.

In short, "suspending" the campaign was nothing more than a campaign stunt.
11.6.2008 12:57pm
LN (mail):
After he suspended his campaign, it took him 24 hours to get from NYC to Washington DC.
11.6.2008 1:18pm
starrydeceases:
I think the true "campaign stunt" was Obama's snide jab that a President needs to be able to handle more than one thing at a time. The which Obama has not in any way proven himself able to accomplish.

McCain ultimately went to the debate because he was criticized so heavily over the "suspension" (however you want to characterize it) in the first place. Of course, he didn't really do anything to further a solution--the whole thing was held up, at least initially and thankfully so, by the more conservative members of the House who he alone could not have swayed, but by reaching a temporary rapproachment with Obama, together they might have made the inevitable bailout somewhat more rational.

I'm extremely critical of McCain, just as I am extremely critical of Obama, and I didn't vote for either of them, but this doesn't blind me to the few good qualities they possess between them.
11.6.2008 1:30pm
EIDE_Interface (mail):
Actually there is no sense to this election. The American people have gone collectively insane and there is no other explanation. Stop digging for something you'll never find.
11.6.2008 1:52pm
smitty1e:
Do you mean the Paul Wellstone Mental Health and Addiction Equity Act of 2007? That bailout?
How I snarled during the third debate when the RINO bleated: "I'm a Federalist".
Yes, I voted RINO, and yes, I'm mostly happy with the result.
Nitwit.
11.6.2008 2:09pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
I disagree that McCain made a mistake, though I agree that the financial crisis may have been decisive in terms of momentum. IMO there was nothing McCain could have done right, or even less bad, when this happened.

To the extent he did anything at all wrong here, it was doing anything at all as opposed to grandly ignoring it like Obama did. Obama dodged responsibility by dodging it. McCain may have accepted responsibility by embracing it, by getting his name into the picture and being identified with the financial crisis.

Part of this is due to the MSM's blame everything on McCain game, but not all or even most of it. He should have least have realized that he was buying trouble by getting involved.

In terms of why he lost, IMO it was rooted in who he is, and that is largely a generational matter. He wsa simply too old to change and learn new things, and this showed throughout his campaign. Certainly he ran a mediocre campaign, with his selection of Governor Palin as a running mate being the only really effective thing he did, and there the lack of followup hurt a lot.
11.6.2008 3:25pm
Hoosier:
I blame the Jews!

(But I think that's just kind of a knee-jerk reaction to everything that goes wrong.)
11.6.2008 3:41pm
nicestrategy (mail):
Polling began heading south for McCain after the Couric interview, which was followed by "the fundamentals of our economy are strong." That was a turning point.

The point of no return might have been the whole bailout flail. The suspension of the campaign to work on the bailout legislation might have been sincere, although the Letterman debacle etc. made it seem more like a gimmick to distract people from the failures of the previous week.

I'm waiting with baited breath for Mr. Zywicki to explain his defense of Palin in light of Carl Cameron's reporting yesterday, the shopping fiasco, etc. She has no business being VP and only a partisan hack would claim otherwise. So why am I responding analysis again? It has been soooo astute thus far...
11.6.2008 4:06pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
nicestrategy,

Your partisanship blinds you to the bloody obvious. Palin was worth 2-3% in the popular vote to McCain due to her effect on the GOP base. That meant a great deal to the GOP overall - it probably saved two Senate seats and maybe ten House seats.

McCain was going nowhere before Palin. She made him acceptable to the GOP base. He could have done a better job with her, but he and his staff were too set in the old political ways to know how to best use her. Note in particular his campaign's complete failure to use populist issues given the big "Kick Me, I'm An Elist Snob Who Despises Ordinary People" sign the MSM and liberal elites hung on the Democrats by reacting to her as you are.

McCain would have been a fine GOP Presidential candidate as late as 2000. But his sell-by date expired, and it showed.
11.6.2008 4:14pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Getting back to Dick Morris, he was routinely wrong about almost everything in this campaign, and not in the "he was right at the time but then some weird event happened to make his entirely reasonable predictions go awry." He consistently overestimated McCain's polling numbers throughout the summer and early fall, was wrong about pretty much literally everything having to do with Hillary and her supporters.

Also, a "2% lead" in the RCP average in the couple of weeks following your party's convention is not "comfortable." [Heck, a 6.5% victory in the election is not all that impressive according to some here, but that's a different thread]. It's especially not comfortable when voters are learning things about your woefully un-vetted VP that make them uncomfortable with her (even before the Couric interview).
11.6.2008 4:18pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
Mr. Slater,

That is a remarkably silly statement. If a VP choice can be a net negative for a campaign, Ralph Nader would be inaugerated President in January because Joe Biden is the all-time winner for Cloud Koo-Koo land of major party VP nominees.

ALL of the people who claim that Palin was a negative for Mcain weren't going to vote for McCain anyway.

But please, keep on believing your own rhetoric. That will make Sarah Palin's election as President much easier.

I remember the same claims about Ronald Reagan.
11.6.2008 4:50pm
Pete Freans (mail):
I would argue this is one of the best posts about the election, its aftermath, and president-elect Obama. While I voted for McCain anyway, I was flabbergasted that he voted for the $700B bailout. What was all that talk about earmarks and pork for? And it is now becoming increasingly clear that the fund (which appears to be stuck in a bureaucratic quicksand) will soon be in the hands of a more Democratic Congress, which can easily rewrite the rules of how this pornographically large bailout package will be distributed.

I'm not sure who Obama is and that's not a political talking-point or cliche'. But if his first term in office anyway resembles President Clinton's first term (too much consensus gathering, unwieldy Oval Office meetings, policy indecisiveness), then Republicans might have a fighting chance to recapture the WH in 2012.
11.6.2008 5:39pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Mr. Holsinger:

Your analysis omits the rather important fact that your opinion of Joe Biden's qualifications vs. Sarah Palin's was not shared by the majority of voters (check any poll re who is qualified to be president, approvals/disapprovals, etc.). And majority opinion -- not yours or mine -- is what matters in elections.

But please, keep on believing your own rhetoric. On the off chance the Republican Party is foolish enough to nominate Palin in 2008 (and I'm guessing they won't be), that will make Obama's re-election a frickin' cakewalk.
11.6.2008 5:41pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Oops, I of course meant to type, "On the off chance the Republican Party is foolish enough to nominate Palin in 2012. . . ."
11.6.2008 5:42pm
Anderson (mail):
Palin was worth 2-3% in the popular vote to McCain due to her effect on the GOP base.

Um, what percentage of the non-base vote did she *lose* for McCain?

Both directly, and in the form of endorsements expressly motivated by the Palin pick?
11.6.2008 5:55pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
The majority of voters did not know much about Biden because he was kept mum for the last month.
There is also a column by a journalist--Wm. Bunch, iirc--saying yes, we lied and we're glad.
Not a surprise, and I suppose after it's too late to do anything about it, what's the harm?
Point is, the media covered up for Biden, what they could find of him, and went after Palin with a crooked magnifying glass.
And we have at least on journo bragging about it.
So don't start with the wingnut stuff. We're all adults here, you won, you can admit it.
11.6.2008 7:06pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
My liberal Democratic wife's opinion of Biden:

"Quayle was a one-trick pony, but Vice-President Joe Biden offers endless fun."
11.6.2008 7:16pm
Loophole1998 (mail):
Look at the national polling trend numbers on Pollster.com. Obama's numbers started going up and McCain's numbers started going down in the middle of the week before "Black Monday" (i.e., the day of McCain's "fundamentals" misstatement).

This corresponds with Palin's Charlie Gibson (which only seems not so bad because we remember the Couric disaster).

Picking Palin signaled that McCain was not a serious candidate looking for the best VP. As Peggy Noonan rightly noted off camera, it was a "gimmick." America was not in the mood for a gimmick. That was the real turning point.

And to all you Palin lovers: Do you know that Africa is not a country?
11.6.2008 7:20pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
loop
Do YOU know that believing what the media tell you is a fool's game?
11.6.2008 7:34pm
byomtov (mail):
I think the bailout hurt McCain badly, but not because he voted for it. It hurt him because his response was incoherent, it was unclear where he stood, and he contributed nothing to solving the problem.

The "suspension" was a joke, as was the rush to DC, (with a stop or two along the way).

McCain clearly saw the bailout, correctly, as an opportunity for him to step into a difficult situation and demonstrate leadership by finding and negotiating a solution. The trouble was, he either didn't know what to do or was unwilling to do it. IMO, from a purely political point of view, he would have been wiser to take a strong position, either way. Instead he just sort of hung around. I suspect that the truth is he didn't think it was a good idea, but was unwilling to take the risk of being blamed for a big market decline if it lost.

BTW, I agree with Mark Field that McCain could have won. The bailout, Palin, and a generally poor campaign were the reasons he lost, I think.
11.6.2008 7:35pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
loop,

I note how you omit the similar drop in Obama's numbers after his post-convention bounce. McCain's drop, as Obama's, were pretty much the standard dropoffs after post-convention bounces. Elections are events. Campaigns are processes. Taking single numbers out of context shows that you do not understand process.

The financial crisis had a clearer long-term impact on McCain's numbers, and that was as much or more due to it taking the public's focus off him as it was to what McCain did. As a general rule, domestic economic/financial crises strengthen Deomcratic presidential nominees' standing in polls while national security crises strengthen those of Republican nominees.

Which gets us back to where I started. I don't think McCain's actions during the financial crisis had much effect relative to it BEING a financial crisis. The latter would have hurt any GOP nominee relative to most any Democratic nominee. Anything McCain did was pretty much damage control.

It was McCain's bad luck that the timing of the financial crisis was arguably what destroyed his momentum, but Obama's 5% popular vote margin indicates Obama would probably have won anyway.

Obama simply ran a superb campaign while McCain ran only a mediocre one, and in a year in which any Democratic nominee would have been favored over any Republican nominee.

I repeat that, IMO, McCain's selection of Sarah Palin was the only thing he did in his entire camapign which had much effect on the outcome, and that was only to make the outcome a bit closer - just enough to nominally keep GOP Senate filibusters viable.
11.6.2008 7:51pm
Aleks:
Re: The GOP has always dated and dumped the base, and the base has never gotten any smarter.

Both parties do that with their respective bases. Do you think the Kossacks are going to be swooning with joy over President Obama toeing their line by this time next year? Candidates need their base voters to get elected, but they can't govern for, from and to that base or they soon find their popularity ratings no larger than the base.

Re: THIS ELECTION WAS STOLEN!!

Sigh. I had hoped with a victory this large that the tin foil hats would stay in the Reynolds box in the cupboard. but alas! At least when the Democrats allowed looney-tunery of this sort to take center stage in November 2004 they only had 60,000 or so votes in one state to spin dark fantasies over.

Re: I think McCain could have won if he had run a competent campaign, which includes nominating a competent VP.

McCain could have won if he had found some way to run toward the Center and away from George Bush. On foreign policy he's as much a hawk a Cheney so that couldn't have happened. On social issues he needed the base too much, and he is sincerely por-Life, so that arena was closed. That left taxes, the economy etc. For McCain to have won he would have had to throw Gover Norquist under the bus and back over him repeatedly, then out-Obama Obama on healthcare, education etc.

Re: Pick Charlie Crist and there's a media a storm that would make Palin look like a walk in the park

Crist isn't seasoned enough for a run yet, but we'll be hearing more from and about him. If (as I expect) he wins reelection by a landslide in 2010 he'll be the GOP's one great success story, conbining a strong dose of pro-middle class populism with traditional (not wingnut) conservatism. As for the innuendos you hint at, I lived in Florida for five years and participated in that scene. No one in that demographic ever whispered anything about Crist. Rather the slanders came from his rightwing enemies seking to block his path to Tallahassee in favor of a blowhard "Jeb Bush conservative".

Re: McCain acted like a fool during the bailout, and should have voted against it.

He would have lost the support of the business community and of just about every sane economist.

Re: Ditto re: Lehman.

Lehman quite literally couldn't pay its bills. That usually spells bankruptcy. On the GSEs word is the Chinese precipitated the takeover by threatening to pull their investments.
11.6.2008 8:29pm
LN (mail):
On Tuesday ordinary hard-working Americans around the country voted decisively for Barack Obama and Joe Biden. They rejected the McCain/Palin ticket.

You can call the American people "stupid" and you can say that the sheeple were tricked by the cunning media, but disrespecting the citizens of our great nation is no way to win elections in the future. The American people are a good, independent-minded people with lots of common sense. If they disagree with you, you may want to consider the possibility that it is you who is wrong, and not them.

Only by adopting my own personal political preferences can the Republican Party possibly emerge from the wilderness. I look forward to the day where we have a competitive two-party system again, but alas I am afraid the extremists are leading a once-great Party into a ditch.

/concern troll
11.6.2008 8:35pm
yclipse (mail):
I cannot say that McCain would have won if he had taken the principled stand that you project. But he would have had a damn better chance.
11.6.2008 11:32pm
David Warner:
Holsinger,

"I remember the same claims about Ronald Reagan."

In the unlikely event she turns out to be big-time after all, she won't be Reagan, she'll be Clinton (Bill).

Slick Sarah.
11.7.2008 12:19am
David Warner:
Anderson,

"Um, what percentage of the non-base vote did she *lose* for McCain?

Both directly, and in the form of endorsements expressly motivated by the Palin pick?"

They were Obama's to lose, not McCain's. Obama didn't.

We've traded a great deal of racial bigotry for the class/cultural flavor. It hasn't helped matters that Palin has confirmed some of that prejudice.
11.7.2008 12:23am
David Warner:
byomtov,

"BTW, I agree with Mark Field that McCain could have won. The bailout, Palin, and a generally poor campaign were the reasons he lost, I think."

And I think that sells our guy (way) short. The election was a referendum on Obama. He passed with flying colors, and deserved to.
11.7.2008 12:27am
TokyoTom (mail):
I believe that McCain would have stood a better chance if he had campaigned against the bailout, but I agree with the others that the simple fact of the crisis and declining economy meant that Republicans would be tagged with it.

His support of the bailout was certainly a disappointment for me.
11.7.2008 1:33am
Chester White (mail):

"He may be a leader..."

He's not a leader, Jack. He's a self-styled "maverick."

Not the same thing AT ALL. Leaders don't continuously stick their fingers in the eyes of their "followers" and insult them ("greed" in the markets, immigration "reform," McCain-Feingold for God's sake)

I agree that he should have stood in front of the bailout yelling, "Stop, wait a damn minute. We are not going to throw $700,000,000,000 of taxpayer money into a black hole after 2 days of discussion!"

But, as he and others have said, he knows nothing about economics, having never run a business or even been employed by one. How the hell did we end up with this guy?

He should have recruited someone like Romney who has actually created wealth in his career to help him formulate a response. But he is too arrogant, and it cost him the election.

Does the Republican party not have anyone with any economic savvy? I could have run that aspect of the election sitting here at my computer drinking beer. Hell, Joe the Plumber got closer to the heart of the matter than all the Republican operatives put together did in 2 years.

It's so goddamn infuriating.
11.7.2008 10:09am
byomtov (mail):
David Warner,

Certainly Obama ran a terrific campaign, and he had big margins in enough states that he really didn't need the close ones. By my arithmetic he could have lost FL, IN, NC, OH, and VA and still won.

But I wonder if some of the things I mentioned might not have changed the entire nature of the campaign. If he wants to stress experience, not to mention go after PA, pick Ridge for VP. Get some decent economic advisers. Forget JTP. Stand up to the base. Was he going to lose Texas?

Maybe you're right and he had no serious chance, but I don't think he gave himself a very good shot.
11.7.2008 3:24pm
David Warner:
byomtov,

"But I wonder if some of the things I mentioned might not have changed the entire nature of the campaign. If he wants to stress experience, not to mention go after PA, pick Ridge for VP. Get some decent economic advisers. Forget JTP. Stand up to the base. Was he going to lose Texas?"

The nature of the campaign had to do with two people, neither of them named McCain. I'm crazy enough to believe that both of those people will eventually be known as above average Presidents, as Eisenhower and Truman are now, despite Truman's unpopularity in 1952.

But no matter how good a campaign Stevenson ran in '52, he wasn't beating Eisenhower. McCain picking Ridge would have done as much good as Stevenson picking another college professor. Stand up to the base? What base? The nursing home resident's convention in Minneapolis? As if the electorate was clamoring to be defended against that sad spectacle. The only people the R base scares are some D's trying to keep their hate fired up. For the rest of us, its not so much fear as pity.

The Palin pick (and Obama's handling of it) was the only chance, but she turned out to be worse than advertised, and Obama better.
11.7.2008 11:55pm