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Why electability is necessary but not sufficient

November 4, 2007

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Why McCain’s campaign is making a mistake

As you can see above, McCain’s campaign is trying to brand him as the most electable conservative alternative to Giuliani. However, I believe that there are two mistakes with this document (three, if you count the fact that the document is being sent to voters in Michigan rather than Iowa or New Hampshire). Although elect ability is important, otherwise Huckabee would be a serious contender and Giuliani would not be the current frontrunner, it is not sufficient. After all, there is little doubt that Joe Lieberman was the most elect able Democrat in 2004. Unfortunately for his candidacy, and for America as a whole, the fact that he used it as his major selling point alienated people. After all, although most people are pragmatic to a certain extent, people don’t like being made to feel that are being forced to vote for a candidate, especially by voters who might share very different views from them. At the same time, candidates who a truly popular can let the polls and media make the argument for them.

The second mistake is McCain’s attempt to brand him as a dependable conservative. McCain is clearly less socially liberal than Giuliani. However, it could be argued that in economic terms he is more dependably centrist (and indeed possibly populist). Indeed, it sounds a bit dubious for someone who voted against Bush’s tax cuts on two separate occasions and has enlightened views on immigration to claim that he has much in common with Grover Norquist or the Hooverite allegiances of the other candidates (though Ronald Reagan would probably viewed as an unreliable liberal by some of current Republican hacks). By trying to pass himself off in this way, McCain just alienates moderates (undermining his electability argument in the process) and draws attention to his apostasy with hardcore Republicans. The only way this strategy would make sense would be if Thompson crashed out of the contest, and even if this happened Romney or Huckabee would pick up the pieces (or Gingrich might be tempted in). I still think McCain is the most qualified candidate to fight for democracy and clear up the mess Bush has made of domestic politics, though I say this as a non-American, and a value bet in terms of winning the nomination, but he still needs to sort out his strategy.

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