It is not too soon to say Obama is toast. In fact, I've already said it, haven't I?
The press was too aggressive in boosting him, and his followers too starry-eyed—making him out as something Messianic. Nobody can deliver on expectations like that. When this becomes clear, the backlash is accordingly severe. They tend to crucify.
And it has begun. The Centre for Media and Public Affairs, having noted through the primaries an overwhelming prejudice in the mainstream press in favour of Barack Obama, now finds, though he still leads by far in media coverage, that most of that coverage is now, by their standards, “negative.” The swords are out.
A recent Comedy Central skit on his mock presidential seal included the line “It's okay to laugh at him.” When they start laughing, you know you're doomed.
And even with all the hype, Obama never achieved much of a lead against McCain—perhaps five to eight points currently, though some polls are tied and some even show him trailing. Kerry had a bigger lead over Bush at this point. So did Gore. The Democrat normally leads at this point in the process, and should, because far more folks are registered Democrats than Republicans. Before more careful scrutiny of the candidates begins in the fall, and before the undecideds have decided, party loyalty is an important factor.
Obama can also expect no boost from any VP pick, while McCain perhaps can. The VP nominee can help overcome doubts about the candidate. But no possible pick can do that for Obama; for him, there is only downside. An unusually inexperienced candidate, he should theoretically pick someone who gives him more credibility in foreign affairs, in economics, and in administration. But for foreign affairs experience, one needs a senator; for administration, one needs a governor. Pick someone who has both, and you end up with an old pol—violating Obama's campaign theme of “change.”
McCain, by contrast, needs no more than relative youth and economic experience. Mitt Romney, among others, comes to mind.
Wild cards? McCain holds them all. McCain, with his longer political career, is less likely to make a gaffe. And he is less likely to have hitherto unknown skeletons falling out of his closet, on the order of the Reverend Mr. Wright.
If the economy continues to look sour, that should argue for the candidate from the party out of power. But who is that? The Democrats hold both houses of Congress. The Republicans traditionally hold the edge on economic issues. And a crisis of any sort argues for an experienced hand at the helm.
If the situation on the ground in Iraq continues to improve, that is again an advantage for McCain, who is identified more than anyone with the policy of the surge. Iraq nearly killed McCain's chances last summer, and revived him last fall. It matters, in American politics. Similarly, in 2004, Howard Dean looked like a sure thing for the Democratic nomination, on the sole issue of getting out of Iraq. Until Saddam was captured, and suddenly being in Iraq looked like a good idea. On the reasonable assumption that present trends continue, then, McCain should win on this issue.
And, if some new crisis in foreign policy occurs between now and November—this is again an advantage for McCain, with his military and foreign policy bona fides.
What could work in Obama's favour?
So far, so good.