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Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Nomination Bump

John McCain is headed for a bump in his polling numbers. After all but officially winning the Republican nomination, his numbers will rise. It's probably safe to assume that the GOP convention will be the coronation that Mike Huckabee warned about. Don't be surprised to see Mike crown him with his own hands.

As the only remaining GOP candidate (Ron Paul remains but, like Mike Gravel on the left, has become irrelevant and, therefore, invisible), McCain will gain a little from those Republicans who were either undecided or Huckabee voters. But there doesn't seem to be a lot of them. He'll also pull some independents drawn to the settled nature of that party's contest.

But a bump is called a bump for a reason. It's not an incline or a ramp, it's up and then back down to normal. In a month, it'll probably be gone.

Which is too bad for Team Mac. He kind of won his nomination by default. His only real competition was awful -- Mitt Romney's votes were almost entirely votes purchased, Rudy Giuliani basically threw his lead away with a boneheaded single-state strategy, and Fred Thompson couldn't be roused from his nap long enough to meet expectations. Huckabee was never a serious challenger and his only real claim to fame was that he won Iowa, so long ago. In retrospect, McCain had to win, being the only GOP candidate who wasn't a clown. He may have been down earlier, but the other candidates -- driven mostly by ego -- couldn't possibly have continued without screwing up. The vain believe their decisions are brilliant, even when they're not.

Speaking of faith in non-existent brilliance, McCain picked up the endorsement of President Brilliant himself yesterday. If that doesn't take a bite out of the eventual bump, nothing will. In case anyone out there had missed the obvious, Bush proclaimed John McCain to be George Bush jr, jr.

THE PRESIDENT: Let me start off by saying that in 2000 I said, vote for me, I'm an agent of change. In 2004, I said, I'm not interested in change -- I want to continue as President. Every candidate has got to say "change." That's what the American people expect.

And the good news about our candidate is, there will be a new President, a man of character and courage -- but he's not going to change when it comes to taking on the enemy. He understands this is a dangerous world, and I understand we better have steadfast leadership who has got the courage and determination to pursue this enemy, so as to protect America.

John McCain will find out, when he takes the oath of office, his most important responsibility is to protect the American people from harm. And there's still an enemy that lurks, an enemy that wants to strike us. And this country better have somebody in that Oval Office who understands the stakes, and John McCain understands those stakes.

Bush neglected to end this endorsement with the word "Booga!" Clearly, Bush is a one-note politician, a peerless fearmonger. But is a promise on behalf of McCain that he'll continue to fight a war of choice really an election winner?

Well, considering that McCain hasn't made a big secret of his unquestioning support of the War in Iraq, we can just go look at polls and see how that's been working for him.

The latest ABC News/Washington Post Poll says it's not working very well at all. In a head-to-head matchup between Hillary and himself, Mac loses 47%-49% -- close, but within the margin of error. However, in the more realistic McCain-Obama race, McCain gets his ass handed to him, 40%-53%. McCain's going to get a bump, sure -- but a sustained 11% or better rise?

No way. The most likely explanation of the difference between the hypothetical McCain-Clinton and McCain-Obama races is that both Clinton and McCain voted for the Iraq war. Clinton's claim to "experience" probably isn't helping any either, since it's basically "Vote for me, the Washington insider." The fact that Obama consistently outperforms Clinton in these matchups doesn't help any. People watch polls and polls influence later polls. Once this sort of trend begins to catch on, it's very hard to break.

So why is Bush pushing McCain's hawkishness as a bonus? First and most obviously, self-interest. When the Iraq war inevitably fails, Bush won't have a single major success story under his belt and history will remember him as the most corrupt president of the last thirty years -- at least. No chance of getting your face on money that way.

But the real reason is more calculating; it's all the GOP has to run on. Another poll by Pew Research Center for the People & the Press shows that Republicans outperform Democrats on terrorism. Asked which party would do a better job on terrorism, Republicans beat dems 45%-38%. It's the only issue in that poll that shows the GOP outperforming.

The problem? A CBS News/New York Times Poll (at the same link) shows that only 5% think terrorism's the most important problem facing the country. So, if you can't sell McCain, you sell terrorism. Bump that up in priority and McCain goes up as well.

So expect a lot of "terrorists are going to kill you right now!" from Team Mac. But also expect big numbers that fade away fast. The best issue they have is fear and only 5% of voters are afraid. They'll do everything they can to change that, but the time for courage has come and the strength of the American people will be called on.

The winning counter to "RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!" isn't, "There's nothing to be afraid of." The winning counter is "Be brave."


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