David Frum argues in the Washington Post that John McCain’s campaign strategy of appealing to the conservative base “has alienated the great national middle, which was the only place where the 2008 election could be won.” He goes on to recommend that the Republicans focus their resources on Senate races in the hope of denying Barack Obama a filibuster-proof majority.
Frum is a terrific analyst, but here I find him mostly unpersuasive. First, in the polls I’ve looked at, McCain isn’t running that badly among independents. He’s trailing Obama because the pollsters find or assume (correctly, I think) that there are now many more Democrats than Republicans. This phenomenon is mainly the result of (1) new voter registration fueled in part by Obama-mania and (2) disillusionment with the Republican party as a whole. It has little or nothing to do with McCain’s recent efforts at outreach to the Republican base, by which Frum seems mostly to mean the selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate.
Like Frum, I’m not a fan of the Palin selection. But trying to pin Senate losses on her seems unfair. Indeed, it sounds like the kind of “pre-crimination” Peter Wehner has warned against.
Second, Frum presents no evidence that “McCain’s awful campaign is having awful consequences down the ballot.” It seems more plausible that congressional Republicans are hurting for the same reason McCain is – voters blame Republicans for the nation’s economic woes, especially the financial meltdown.
Third, Frum prescribes that “every available dollar that can be shifted to a senatorial campaign be shifted to a senatorial campaign.” In principle, I agree that some RNC resources should be shifted to close Senate races. However, I’m not sure how feasible it is to shift significant amounts of RNC money at this juncture.
Finally, Frum wants a “message change” that acknowledges that Democrats are probably going to win the White House and that warns against the dangers of one-party, left-wing government. This is a talking point that any Republican Senate candidate can, and I assume will, employ if necessary. McCain too can argue that he is all that stands between one-party, left-wing government. To some extent it’s “every man for himself” at this point. No formal strategy of “message change” is required.
UPDATE: Mark Steyn ridicules Frum for this statement: “The statehouses were the engine of our renewal in the 1990s; the Senate will have to play the same role after this defeat.” Steyn is correct that the present collection of stale and often centrist Republican Senators will not lead a renewal. But they can help slow down the Obama express, provided that enough of them are re-elected.
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