You may have heard it here first: that McCain would win the Republican nomination (December 28, 2006, again on April 10, 2007); that Romney could not (November 24, 2007); that Hillary Clinton was doomed (November 28, 2007 for that quote; I said on September 3, 2006, that she was “unlikely even to win the nomination”). And I stuck with those predictions throughout, though I notice I expressed openly a temptation to call it instead for Giuliani in April—before backing off and staying with the McCain prediction. They now look pretty good, at least to me.
The one thing I called wrong was Obama. I expected Edwards, not Obama, to be the Democratic nominee. But that, I said at the time, was based on supposing Edwards finished very close to Obama on the first ballot in Iowa; otherwise it would be Obama. Here’s what I actually wrote on the eve of the Iowa primary:
On the Democratic side, a tight race—which we seem to have--almost certainly means Hillary is doomed. Because of her perceived frontrunner status, she already has almost all her likely supporters. Expect her to come in third. Edwards is most popular as a second choice—in a close race, this should put him over the top, unless Obama is well ahead of him on the first ballot.
As it happened, Obama was indeed well ahead of him on the first ballot, thanks to an influx of young people voting. That, I think, was how close it was.
When Obama instead of Edwards took Iowa, I did switch to predicting Obama would have the nomination. On the morning the results came in, I wrote:
Anyway, the big media spin coming out of this looks to be Obama. Fair enough, I think. It looks as though he drew huge numbers of new caucus-goers. This makes him the new favorite to take the Democrats’ nomination.
I did less well on details, but the broad picture has turned out pretty much as I thought.
It’s been fascinating to watch Hillary’s decline. It was all inevitable, but her surprise comeback in New Hampshire—thanks to the women’s vote—made it all happen in such slow motion that it was almost imperceptible. Kind of like watching someone swiftly decapitated, but continuing to walk and talk until she tries to take a bow. But there is not another comeback in her. Her inevitability is shattered, and that’s all she had.
This is bad news for Republicans, if good news for America. Obama is a lot harder to defeat in a general election.
Still, I think, contrary to current conventional wisdom, that McCain has a better chance than Obama of becoming president this cycle.
Because Obama is relatively inexperienced, he is more likely to make gaffes over the next year. Because his past is not yet well known, there is a chance something there will come back to haunt him. For the same reason, he is more vulnerable to whispering campaigns and the efforts of Republicans to shape his public image to his detriment. All this gives him handicaps McCain does not have. So far, he has been the press’s darling. But there’s every chance they will get bored by this, and try to take him down, by next November. McCain is also the press’s darling; but they’ve already been through this cycle with him. There’s little news value left in doing it again. If they do, there’s less to lose by it.
Given all that, and that McCain roughly ties him in the polls today, the odds have to be in McCain’s favour—but it is a gamble, no sure thing. Not like Hillary’s defeat.
Good news from Iraq will help McCain; bad news will help Obama. The story line now is the success of the surge. This will probably continue; it’s the better story. Advantage, McCain. If the economy tanks, this ought to hurt the Republicans—but may not, with these two candidates. In troubled times, do people turn to an inexperienced hand at the helm? And McCain can also credibly distance himself from the current regime’s failures. Call it a draw—but it could make a difference who the VP candidates are.