The Welch Effect


Future historians at work in their hyper-labs at level H-6 in the Ian McCulloch Moon colony will inevitably come up with that name for the ongoing tumble of John McCain, battered by former Reasonoid Matt Welch and now by DC's insiders. National Journal regularly asks a panel of powerful Democrats who they think would make the most formidable GOP candidate. Since the last installment, McCain fell by fifty-six points. From Political Wire:

Rudy Giuliani: 39% (12%)
Mitt Romney: 20% (11%)
John McCain: 17% (73%)
Chuck Hagel: 9% (0%)
Fred Thompson: 9% (0%)
Mike Huckabee: 2% (1%)
Tommy Thompson: 1% (0%)
Don't know (volunteered): 3% (3%)

It is quite possible that I'm overstating Welch's effect on this. Actually, in his feature Welch didn't predict that the acceptance of McCain's lusted-after troop surge would hurt him quite so much.

By enthusiastically endorsing McCain's approach, the lame duck president all but finished the job of anointing the senator his political successor. McCain had already spent the previous three years lining up Bush's campaign team, making nice with the social conservatives he railed against in the 2000 primaries, and positioning himself as the most hawkish of all the nomination-chasing Republican hawks. For the purposes of the 2008 campaign, Bush's surge announcement was almost the perfect gift: McCain got to solidify his case with primary voters even while giving himself operational deniability. ("We've made many, many mistakes since 2003, and these will not be easily reversed," he said on January 11, while reiterating his call for even more troops.) The sheer unpopularity of Bush's move did knock the previously front-running McCain a notch or two behind Rudy Giuliani in the polls. (Both men have consistently finished ahead of Democratic contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in head-to-head competition.) But it also allowed McCain to recapture some of his lost reputation as a straight-talking independent.

It did do that last thing, and if you trawl through the tapes of Sunday and cable shows in January you'll hear the media praise for McCain. But unless the surge works,* it did damage to McCain's image among independents that'll never get fixed. Add to that his age and his skunk/garden party reputation with the GOP base and you've got most of the rationale for his sinking numbers.

*insert your own sarcastic bon mot!