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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

McCain’s Vulnerabilities

In his new perch at ThinkProgress, Matt Yglesias is back to his prodigious blogging, and today offers a good reminder (in the contest of a new AFL-CIO direct mail piece) that Social Security could be a big problem for John McCain in the stretch-drive of the campaign.
I can’t recall a competitive major-party presidential candidate who was as dependent on the votes of older voters as John McCain is today. His past and prospective support for Social Security privatization (in the context of an overall fiscal plan that guarantees perpetual raids on Social Security revenues), and his recent attacks on the basic pay-go structure of the program as “disgraceful,” expose him to some very real problems with seniors.
But the time bombs ticking away in the substructure of McCain’s campaign go far beyond Social Security, and extend to issues that currently may be working in his favor. Sure, the present Russia-Georgia conflict may be giving him a good opportunity to talk tough. But it also will increasingly draw attention to his overall foreign policy posture of wanting to fight in Iraq until “victory,” while increasing troop levels in Afghanistan and rattling sabers against Iran, and now Russia. The unsettling reality about John McCain is that his foreign policy thinking combines the pre-9/11 conservative obsession with a new cold war against superpower rivals (then China, now Russia and China) with the post-9/11 neocon obsession to fight a new world war against “Islamofascism.” How many wars, cold or hot, regional or global, are Americans really ready to undertake?
Similarly, McCain is getting some traction from his flip-flop favoring offshore oil drilling. But that’s about all he has to say about the economy, other than the same cut-taxes-and-deregulate-and-promote-free-trade message Republicans have offered for eons. At some point, the fact that his health care plan is even worse than the status quo will get noticed, along with regressive and pro-corporation tax policies that blow up his credibility as a fiscal hawk, and an unconditional pro-trade-liberalization commitment that should represent a deep political problem for him in battleground states like Ohio and Michigan.
And for those of you who may believe policy really doesn’t matter to voters because it’s all about “character” and “trust” and “likeability” and so forth, McCain’s vulnerabilities go beyond wonky subjects like the fate of the country domestically and internationally. His much-vaunted “maverick” persona continues to be threatened by a vast track record of solidarity with George W. Bush and the GOP, and his reputation for a positive, transpartisan approach to politics may not survive his campaign’s steady descent into negative attacks on Barack Obama. And if his past behavior is any indication, there’s also a good chance that McCain will do or say something on the campaign trail, or in the debates, that makes him a lot less “likable.”
It’s always possible that McCain will successfully navigate all these potentially lethal problems, or that Obama and Democrats will fail to fully exploit his many vulnerabilities. But he’s got a tougher path to victory than a lot of nervous Democrats seem to realize.

One comment on “McCain’s Vulnerabilities

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