Starting Gate: How Did They Get Here?

The backbiting is setting in early among some Republicans who see very little good news of late. Much of it began a couple of weeks ago when some of the conservative intelligentsia in Washington broke ranks on the John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate, openly criticizing the Alaska governor.

Some Republicans were reportedly incensed over news that the party had spent $150,000 to outfit Palin and her family for the campaign (almost always via anonymous quotes, of course). The McCain campaign's strategy has been second-guessed at every turn with no lack of hindsight advice over decisions made.

The candidate himself dipped a toe into the blame-game pool today in an interview with the Washington Times, criticizing President Bush and Republicans in congress for creating the circumstances the party finds itself in now.

"We just let things get completely out of hand," McCain tells the paper. He had no shortage of items on his list, citing "spending, the conduct of the war in Iraq for years, growth in the size of government, larger than any time since the Great Society, laying a $10 trillion debt on future generations of America, owing $500 billion to China, obviously, failure to both enforce and modernize the [financial] regulatory agencies that were designed for the 1930s and certainly not for the 21st century, failure to address the issue of climate change seriously."

Of all the finger-pointing that has gone on so far, McCain's complaints are probably the most accurate. It wasn't that long ago when the Arizona senator was almost universally viewed as the party's best hope to win the White House, precisely because he had clashed with it in the past. Voters entered 2008 in a sour mood to begin with. An unpopular president presiding over a very unpopular war combined with growing economic concerns made it highly unlikely the party would be successful nominating a candidate promising more of the same.

The maverick McCain, who bucked his party on immigration even as he was gearing up his primary campaign, appeared to be the best antidote to the Bush years for the party. But Barack Obama and Democrats have successfully (thanks to $600 million assist) been able to tie Bush around McCain's campaign. Why? Because McCain has had to try and both energize the base and try to differentiate himself at the same time. It hasn't worked.

His selection of Palin, his hawkishness on foreign policy and his failure to find a real way to separate himself from traditional Republican orthodoxy on the economy have overshadowed the places where does differ from Bush, like global warming. Trying to satisfy the base of the party while creating some separation from them and reach out to independents and conservative Democrats was always going to be difficult. It's now become much more than that, as the early finger-pointing begins.

Around The Track

  • Three new polls from Quinnipiac University show Obama with big leads in three critical battleground states. Obama leads in Ohio (52 percent to 38 percent), Pennsylvania (53 percent to 40 percent) and Florida (49 percent to 44 percent).
  • Meanwhile, the latest Big Ten Battleground poll has Obama up in Illinois (61 percent to 32 percent), Indiana (51 percent to 41 percent), Iowa (52 percent to 39 percent), Ohio (53 percent to 41 percent), Michigan (58 percent to 36 percent), Minnesota (57 percent to 38 percent), Pennsylvania (52 percent to 41 percent) and Wisconsin (53 percent to 40 percent).
  • An analysis by the USA Today estimates that the campaign is on pace to set a record for overall spending at $5.3 billion. The presidential race alone will have cost $2.4 billion.
  • "Mr. McCain has only one hope: to drive home doubts about Mr. Obama based on his record, and share as much as he can about his own values and vision to reassure voters." – Former Bush adviser Karl Rove, in his latest Wall Street Journal column.