McCain Beats Hillary in MA and Rudy Doesn't (Why This is a Good Thing)
DaveG, now my colleague over at the Race42008 blog, has an interesting piece on the Massachusetts poll showing McCain beating Hillary in Massachusetts (!) by a point, with Rudy trailing by 8 points. Ryan Sager won't be surprised to learn that Dave and myself are finding a silver lining to this. I'd go a step further and argue that this undermines the McCain electability argument, and shows why he should not be the nominee.
The crux of the argument is this: If McCain is winning Massachusetts, it's not just swing voters he's winning, it's hardcore, dyed-in-the-wool liberal Democrats. Dave notes that McCain's strength in the dark blue states is peculiar since he's not beating Hillary by 20 to 30 points nationally. Where does he pay for his strength in Massachusetts? Most likely by shedding conservatives he should be winning in the dark red states. Extend this out to other heartland swing states with a reddish tinge and McCain's appeal to coastal elites makes states like Iowa, Missouri, and perhaps Ohio less winnable if the race suddenly tightens (and it will -- Bush was once up by 15-20 points in 2000 and 2004).
What troubles me about nominating about nominating a candidate who could win Massachusetts -- which has been on the wrong side of every Presidential election but one for two generations -- is that it forces us to rely on an extremely shaky and untenable coalition of conservative Republicans, maverick independents, and even some liberal Democrats. How do you keep all of these groups together? The answer is that you can't. You piss off conservatives by playing to MSM and your liberal supporters, and you piss off liberals by doing what you need to do to reach out to the Religious Right. Once McCain is forced to choose what kind of candidate he wants to be, the wheels start flying off. The liberals will flock back home to the Democrats like they do every election, McCain will lose his lead, and he has to go back to the well with an atrophied and unenthused base. The conservatives who gave 110% for W. will give 75-80% for McCain.
The problem with McCain's base is that it's not coherent. He attracts support from all over the ideological spectrum. And that's a bad thing. It means he has an unusually difficult job in pleasing everyone, particularly if the media one day decides to stop giving him a free ride.
One thing Karl Rove understands well is that to win, your base needs to be coherent and in agreement with itself at least 80% of the time. That's why Bush hasn't played to the middle and was able to win time after time on base turnout. Both Giuliani and McCain should be able to add voters outside the base. The question is how?
As Dave suggests, only Giuliani has the potential to build a true center-right coalition, tacking on the 3 or 4 percent of voters just to the left of Bush's 51 percent while leaving the liberal rump exclusively to Hillary. McCain brings us a hodgepodge of moderates, Massachusetts liberals, and the mainstream media. All of which we need like a hole in the head. Ultimately, it will prove impossible to manage and McCain will implode.
McCain's appeal is similar to that of the The West Wing's Arnold Vinick. Remember him? The maverick Republican who led prohibitively in every early poll, was urged to run a 50-state strategy by his Democratic strategist, and ultimately crashed and burned against a bread-and-butter liberal when he didn't keep his eye on the ball and mobilize his base.