John McCain's Problem

| Tue Oct. 21, 2008 12:30 PM EDT

JOHN McCAIN'S PROBLEM....Today's New York Times poll graphically illustrates the biggest problem John McCain had going into this election. Normally, a Republican would run right in the primary and then tack to the center during the general election. But McCain, who has always been distrusted by the hardcore conservative wing of the party — the social conservatives especially — couldn't do that. In order to consolidate their support, he had to tack to the right for the general election, most spectacularly with his choice of Sarah Palin as VP.

But this has been disastrous. McCain's biggest electoral advantage was always his appeal to independents, and as he's moved to the right independents have abandoned him in droves. In the last month, his favorable rating among independents has gone down 3 points and his unfavorable rating has skyrocketed an astonishing 20 points. In other words, nearly every single independent who didn't already have an opinion about McCain has decided in the last month that they don't like him. The New John McCain has been the biggest flop imaginable.

I honestly don't know what he could have done differently to avoid this. One argument, I suppose, is that conservatives would have ended up voting for him regardless, so he should have ignored them and gone after the independent bloc like a laser. But I'll bet that wouldn't have worked either. Conservatives were genuinely uncomfortable with McCain, and if he had aggressively courted the independent vote Rush Limbaugh would have been skinning him alive 24/7 and James Dobson would still be telling his followers to stay home this year.

Was there an answer to this dilemma? I can't think of one. McCain's rock this year was very, very hard, and his hard place was very, very rocky. He was just plain screwed.