What if John McCain really does lose on Tuesday? What will Wednesday be like, at least as far as certain political commentators are concerned?
I don't think it's going to be pretty. I can see some commentators throwing McCain under the proverbial bus on Wednesday.
The argument would go something like this: "The Republican Party made a huge mistake when it nominated a moderate as President. It gave up the soul of its party. John McCain wasn't one of us. He was never one of us. The man was just pretending to be a true conservative. He didn't represent a choice. Sarah Palin tried hard to show us what true conservatism was like, but as a vice presidential nominee she couldn't make up for what McCain represented. Today marks the first day of our efforts to take back the Republican Party, and fight the socialist hordes that will attack us from the White House in the years to come."
Here's the catch. McCain did better than any other possible Republican choice for President, better than he could have been expected to do.
Any Republican was up against it this year:
1. It's a Democratic year. The generic Democrat beats the generic Republican in polling. Party registration tilts heavily toward the Democratic side. Abraham Lincoln would have had trouble running on the Republican line this year.
2. It's a poor year to be associated with George Bush. The current President's approval rating is south of 30 percent. Any Republican candidate was going to be linked to him, especially one that was a member of Congress. That was a huge disadvantage.
3. The economy's timing was perfect for Obama. Initially, it looked as if Barack Obama could ride an anti-war feeling into the general election. The surge has bought the Republicans some time at the least for the moment. However, Obama received a replacement issue when the stock market started to crumble, and fit into his motto of change nicely. Sure McCain didn't handle the initial meltdown well, but that only reinforced the situation.
4. There were few game-changing choices out there for Vice President for McCain or anybody else. McCain obviously felt he needed something to shake up the calculus of the situation. Tim Pawlenty, the pick of conventional wisdom, wouldn't exactly send volunteers out into the streets to ring doorbells.
McCain took Palin, who clearly was not ready for the national stage. Yes, she invigorated the Republican base. Yes, she found an audience for her brand of politics. She also stunned many by not even knowing what a vice president does, which is high school social studies material. She drove away those with moderate views with some of her public stances, and her "us vs. them" approach to politics appealed to the Pat Buchanan wing of the Republican Party. The pick was obviously a political one, which flew in the face of "Country first." And it ruined one of McCain's best arguments, that experience matters. If it did, how could you put her a 72-year-old's heartbeat away from the White House? So add it up, and the gamble didn't really work ... but McCain clearly loses without doing something.
McCain has a great biography and an unquestioned love of country. Yes, his message has wobbled at times over the campaign, and he and his supporters could have done some things differently. But he still is projected to lose by only six percent or so. Obama hasn't been the perfect candidate, but he's run a clean, focused campaign. It's not a bad showing for McCain to be slightly out of striking distance at this point.
It's been a pretty ugly campaign at times, with some incidents that shouldn't be preserved as Kodak moments. The last ugly moment could come Wednesday to someone who deserves better.
We'll see what happens Tuesday ... and Wednesday.