How much have you heard about the failed coup d’etat in 2008?
The story of John McCain’s frustrated effort to select his own running mate has, not surprisingly, centered around the almost non-existent vetting of Sarah Palin and the series of unfortunate events that followed. There has been little talk about what might have happened if McCain had been able to run with his choice of VP.
For years McCain had talked about the potential value of selecting a moderate running mate from the opposing party. In fact, although there are official denials all-round, it appears that McCain was involved in some discussions with the Kerry campaign in 2004 which would have loved to have him.
In ’08 McCain wanted Joe Liebermann, the former Democrat-turned-Independent Senator from Connecticut as his running mate. Why?
It would have accomplished one of McCain’s great goals, shattering the increasingly lunatic partisan stranglehold over the nation’s politics. If successful, such a move would have been little short of a coup, leaving us with a new, unfamiliar political landscape that would devastate the extremes of both parties. It was and remains the fundamentalists’ greatest nightmare.
It failed almost before it began.
According to the book, Game Change, rumors of McCain’s choice slipped out by accident as aides were taking the temperature of the GOP leadership. State party leaders with the strongest fundamentalist credentials rapidly mobilized and threatened a convention revolt that could have taken the VP selection out of his hands entirely, if not endangered his own nomination. McCain-Huckabee ’08!
Their opposition had nothing to do with abortion, as most commonly reported. The last four Republican Presidents have done nothing about abortion, just like the next four will. Their opposition was based on the threat that they would be rendered suddenly irrelevant.
Since Bush 1 was destroyed by the fundamentalist movement, American politics has been dictated by the Republican Party’s contorted dance. Reagan set us up to dominate the country’s powerful middle-right majority and we have been reluctant to officially give that up. But the religious fundamentalists that Reagan activated to deliver the ground-game for that strategy have been stretching the Party toward the farthest known extremes of the spectrum and beyond. The Party is constantly flirting with a groin injury.
The result? Up until the campaign year we are in right now, even extremist Republicans like Jim DeMint pretended to represent traditional conservative values while quietly embracing a radical religious agenda in practice. That has left the vast majority of Americans poorly represented and dissatisfied with politics. The Democrats can’t get far enough right to appeal to them and Republicans are drifting rapidly out of the majority’s comfort zone.
McCain saw an opportunity to do two things with his pick; isolate the “agents of intolerance” that had stood in the way of his vision for a decade, and recapture the power that could come from representing Reagan’s majority. In short, he hoped to complete the revolution.
Could two farty old geezers have beaten The Messiah? We’ll never know. It’s useful to remember though that Obama’s supposedly grand victory was accomplished with barely 53% of the vote. And without a doubt, the McCain of ’08 was not on top of his game and might not have won no matter who was on the ticket. But all the normal assumptions of our politics would have been useless. It is hard to guess what the outcome would have been.
As it turned out, he lost his battle with the Party and had a nominee shoved down his throat with 40 hours to vet. McCain came out of the process demoralized and grouchy. He never recovered his form. Meghan McCain said she cried when she heard the news.
Staffers were increasingly horrified as they got to know their nominee. They were dealing with a potential Vice President of the United States who didn’t know why there are two Koreas, thought Saddam was behind 9/11, and crumbled while fielding softball questions from Katie Couric. What magazines to you read? There’s a lot of important stuff in People. Katie’s so unfair and elitist.
With the failure of McCain’s palace coup, that strategy remains on the table to be exploited. Now that the GOP is being publicly seized by fundamentalists who are no longer embarrassed about discussing their genuine aims, the Party badly needs to keep traditional center-right conservatives disillusioned and quiet.
The strategy is to turn out a dedicated wing of activists while making the political atmosphere so toxic that reasonable people just stay home. Tactics learned from Rove – vote suppression by nauseating stench. We want unity, so shut your pie-hole.
Democrats could exploit this if they could ever break out of the ’60’s. Obama said he was going to do that, then immediately tried to ram nationalized healthcare down our throats. The Dems are effectively locked out of access to the mainstream for the foreseeable future.
So we are setting up a political system dominated by narrow wings on the left and right, with a frustrated mass in the middle torn, depressed, and unrepresented. Meanwhile the country bleeds.
It seems logical that at some point, with an increasing mass of alienated, sane voters in play, someone will find a way to successfully repeat McCain’s attempted coup. I can’t map out how we get there from here. His failure made it harder for anyone in the future. Such a move probably won’t happen in 2012. Mitt Romney, for example, is waayyy too liberal now. That’s right, Mitt Romney.
With McCain’s failure to rein in the theocrats, no rational Republican will likely have a shot until this movement has destroyed itself. They won’t be fooled again. They are politically doomed, but they won’t go down without significant new damage to the Party and the country. This will be a rough ride.
The conservative majority that will right the country and lead us into the next American Century is already in place. They are waiting for leadership and mostly on the sidelines. In time, someone will find a way through the partisan minefields to reach them. The party that accomplishes this goal will dominate the country for a generation.
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