Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Thursday, September 04, 2008

  Republicans will regret yesterday's Convention (Part 2)

So what did McCain need most to achieve from last night's speeches?

(i) Fire up the rank and file GOP. Check. Republican conventions have been doing this successfully for years with an old formula: taunting Democrats, fake wedge issues, and red-meat divisiveness. This part was easy, especially with a vice presidential nominee who's an extremist opponent of abortion.

(ii) Appeal to persuadable voters, i.e. moderate Republicans, conservative Democrats, and the remaining hold-out supporters of Hillary Clinton. Uh, nope.

Mockery to be effective can't seem mean-spirited. The open taunting last night was off putting. Giuliani and Palin blew it completely by ridiculing, for example, Obama's work as a community organizer. Delegates taunting Obama as a "Zero" are the opposite of endearing. When Giuliani sneered at Obama's rise to prominence as "the kind of thing that could happen only in America", it sounded like he meant that Americans are boobs. The irony of Palin's sudden rise from obscurity seemed lost on him.

In fact Giuliani got so carried away with his attacks that he even sneered at Hillary Clinton. The last person who credibly could have joined in the belittling of Obama's record was Sarah Palin. Yet she obviously relished her over-the-top attacks.

It was almost as if the strategy was to drive undecided voters straight into Obama's camp.

Clearly this was a slick assembly line speech created for Palin by a former writer for George Bush, Matthew Scully.

Scully started working on the vice-presidential speech a week ago, before he or anyone else knew who the nominee would be, and it's not hard to pick out the parts that would have been the same regardless of who delivered it.

It was in the Bush tradition. There were cheap put downs and strawmen and caricatures of Democrats galore – and a similar lack of substance.

The attacking mode last night backfired especially badly for Palin. Greenberg, Quinlan, Rosner Research conducted 2 focus groups with persuadable women voters during and after her speech, and the majority came away with a more negative impression of Palin. Some of the women were strongly offended even if they were impressed by Palin's ability to deliver her speech effectively.

"Once she started mudslinging, I thought, it's the same old crap as other politicians. McCain used her to get the women's vote. And she's using McCain." ... "She comes off pretty cutthroat," said one.

That's little short of disastrous. McCain has said he'll lose without attracting Clinton's voters. Palin was selected to win them over. And yet McCain had his writers create a speech for her that was almost bound to do the opposite.

(iii) Introduce Sarah Palin to a public that knows almost nothing about her; define her before Democrats do; and explain why she's qualified. No.

This had to be the primary goal of the evening because Palin is such a cipher, has the thinnest of political records, and has been mired in controversy since her selection was announced. Anybody could have attacked Barack Obama and Joe Biden; it was a miscalculation to have her waste a critical opportunity doing so.

Less than half her speech was in any way about herself. Palin's introduction of her family was the dullest section – the part most likely to have been written by her. She went on to say nothing about any achievements as mayor; she said she was so offended by Democrats' criticisms of her tenure as mayor that she would "explain to them what the job involves", but in point of fact Palin veered away immediately into insults and never returned to her job as mayor. That was pretty telling. She then took credit as governor for only two accomplishments that could be portrayed as even remotely significant. Palin also repeated her discredited claims that she opposed the "Bridge to Nowhere" and earmarks generally. Her portrait of herself as a reformer was all bluster and almost no substance. The rest was boilerplate praise for McCain and attacks on Obama and the media. There's a good reason why voters in those focus groups wanted to know a lot more about Palin after the speech. What we got was a pretty stock portrait. I still don't have a clear idea what a "hockey mom" is supposed to be, either, though I love the game.

(iv) Lay claim to some issues that voters care about and explain what McCain and Palin would do. No way.

So far I see no evidence that Republicans care about health care, the mortgage crisis, the economy, the middle-class squeeze, the outsourcing of jobs, the exploding national debt, or any domestic issues other than drilling for oil. As for convincing voters they have a plan for anything, it wasn't even attempted. In foreign policy it's about the same. The speakers did insist on "victory" in Iraq, but without defining it, even as the Maliki government insists on the US withdrawing from the country. Otherwise all one can say is that they're hostile to "tyrants" who have oil and that Georgia matters a lot, somehow.

As the New York Times noted, it's as if the querulous Republicans had a touch of the lock-jaw wherever serious issues are concerned.

The problem is that American voters have yet to hear — from John McCain or his warm-up acts — any serious ideas on what, exactly, is wrong with Washington, apart from the fact that a Democrat might win the White House, never mind how to truly fix it.

In short, Republicans can feel relieved that Sarah Palin did not implode in her first major speech. But that's the lowest of low bars. They've accomplished only the easiest of the goals they needed to reach. They've squandered opportunities by turning instinctively to the divisive playbook of Karl Rove. They've presented us with Bushism without Bush. In the process McCain and Palin have also made it harder for themselves to run as "mavericks" or agents of change. And they've left hanging the cloud around Sarah Palin's readiness to serve, with the implication that McCain's judgment in picking her was clouded.

crossposted at

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