I keep hearing the "the divided party typically loses in November" mantra repeated all morning. I'm not sure this is true in a year where the pundits have been wrong AGAIN and AGAIN.
Granted, the quick end to the chaotic Republican race seems to provide the GOP a step up in the general election campaign, but this assumes McCain can achieve two goals. Can he unify a divided party and energize the conservative grassroots base to do the hard campaign work necessary to win in November? Can he make this move without alienating the moderate independents who are the base of his support?
Beyond McCain's challenges, the muddled Democratic nomination battle may also have unacknowledged pluses for eventual Democratic nominee.
- No Clear Target: First off, the longer we go without a nominee, the less damage the GOP smear machine can do. They can only work to brand "tax and spend liberals" and "Surrender to terror" broadbased memes - which they're going to do anyway. On the other hand, both Obama and Clinton can now do a semi-pivot toward the general election - attacking the McCain/Bush foreign and domestic policy failures.
This is already underway on the campaign trail. It behooves progressives to successfully link McCain to Bush and the neoconservative ideology. By doing this, it will force McCain to repudiate and distance himself from Bush. This makes McCain's challenge to shore up conservative support much more difficult.
- Free Media: A protracted Democratic debate means both Clinton and Obama receive top billing night after night in the national media narrative, relegating Bush and McCain to the sidelines. I envision McCain saying to his old media pals, "hey, what about me? Don't forget I'm relevant over here!"
- Campaign Focused on Democratic Issues: The vibrant debate between Clinton & Obama will mean this election is defined along Democratic themes NOT Republican. Healthcare, the economy and education will remain frontburner issues while the terror card fades into the background (unless al Qaeda rears its hideous head on American soil again).
- A Third Party Candidate Emerges: The dissafected conservatives may see an opening to run a third party candidate - they may view McCain as a sacrificial lamb - and decide to send a powerful reminder to the Republican establishment that they cannot win without grassroots conservative support. Don't be surprised if this happens. I think the longer the Dems don't have a nominee (which means we've got the spotlight) the greater the likelihood a conservative grassroots third party candidate jumping in becomes.
- The Power of the Media: The media is absolutely LOVING this. There is a bottom-line profit motive for our 24-7 cable news that propels this back-and-forth. If you haven't noticed, each time one of the Democratic candidates seems to propel slightly ahead, the moment the underdog over-performs, the MSM declares a momentum shift. A prolonged fight feeds the insatiable machine. They have a dog in this fight - and it's ALWAYS the underdog.