The current flavor in politics is that Democrats should be extremely worried that their nomination battle is going to doom the party to defeat in the presidential election. I’d like to make the case that all this worrying is a waste of time and energy.
Now let’s remember that modern Democrats are born worriers. They are certain, to paraphrase their not-hero Ronald Reagan, that behind every gift horse must lie a pile of manure. Democratic pessimism is deeply ingrained. Here’s why I think it is wrong headed.
1. The notion that this is an election Democrats should win, but might blow, is wrong. The fact is that Democrats have always had to struggle to win presidential elections. There hasn’t been a true sure thing for Democrats since Lyndon Johnson smashed Barry Goldwater in 1964, and before that you have to go back to FDR. Only one Democrat since 1964 has won a majority of the popular vote, Jimmy Carter in 1976, who barely crossed 50% against an unelected incumbent, Gerald Ford, who had pardoned Richard Nixon. Bill Clinton never beat 50%. Republicans, by contrast, have piled up majorities numerous times. All other things being equal, Republicans should be favored in presidential elections.
Generic polling on the presidential race shows a Democratic edge, at least until you put actual candidates in the mix. And then it’s very close. So Democrats should stop acting like they are blowing a sure thing. It was going to be a challenge no matter what the state of the economy, the unpopularity of Bush, etc.
2. It’s only March. Sure, it would be great if the Democratic race were over, but consider that the campaign has only been really going on in earnest since late January. The election, may I remind you, is in November, several eons away.
3. Sticks and stones may break my bones…. The Clinton and Obama campaigns are saying nasty things about each other. Some of the stuff seems over the top. But then both camps spend days arguing about who is the most over the top. The latest battle is over who is more negative. I’d almost rather hear one of them say, “bring it on, give me your best shot”, and then laugh it off. Sometimes I find the high ground a little boring and pointless. For example, when Bill Clinton implies that only Hillary and McCain are patriotic, Obama ought to just say, “well that’s what people say when they’re desperate. Personally I’m looking forward to taking on John McCain in the fall. If they’re not up to that task, maybe they should get out of the way.”
Politics is kind of colorful and lively, and I wish people didn’t have to spend so much time apologizing for saying wild things about opponents. Democrats ought to spend more time practicing the art of political teasing because they will need it in the fall, and less time trying to win the argument about who is the most appropriate. This excessive sensitivity that is causing Democrats to say they will bolt in the fall if the other one wins the nomination has time to dissipate.
4. John McCain has plenty of problems of his own. Lately, the Democratic buzz is how incredibly strong McCain will be in the fall. The theme is also being pushed by the Clintons, who are trying to both make that point, and then form a tacit alliance with McCain against Obama. Sure, McCain is a strong candidate, with a great image.
And see point #1 above. But he’s got money problems. He just passed the legal limit for spending in the nomination phase despite a statement by the Federal Election Commission Chair that he can’t do that. He’s being hugely outraised by both Clinton and Obama. He’s showing confusion about foreign policy, mixing up Shiites and Sunnis, and seems uninterested in economic policy. Think the economy might be a big issue this year? His spectacularly supportive media coverage is being nicked a bit here and there, and reporters are beginning to show some interest in covering him not as their personal friend but in a more professional way.
5. Republicans are even more worried than Democrats. Republicans think they have a decent chance at holding the White House, and that makes sense. But they are extremely worried about the Congress, facing Republican retirements, a big fundraising deficit to Democrats, and issues that bode poorly for them. For Republicans, holding the White House is critical because they expect to do badly everywhere else.
So Democrats should put away their worry beads, and relax a bit.
It’s a long way to November.