Conventional wisdom in Republican circles and among the mainstream media is that the longer and hotter the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination gets, the better for our nominee, John McCain. Republicans giggle with glee at the sight of two Democrats tearing each other apart, with the same gusto as the media looks with horror.
But I, for one, am not quite convinced that a protracted nomination battle will be a bad thing for the Democrats in the end. While there is plenty of schadenfreude for Republicans watching Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama wallop each other, the mudslinging between Democrats may work to their favor in the end.
My five year-old nephew would be able to see the allegory for the McCain campaign in an old children’s tale, the Tortoise and the Hare. For those who do not remember the Aesop, the story goes like this: a rabbit and a turtle are in a race, the rabbit gets off to a quick start while the turtle plods along steadily. The rabbit decides to take a rest, but is overtaken and passed by the turtle and loses in the end.
The Republican nomination process felt a lot like that rascally rabbit this year. In 23 mere days between New Hampshire and Florida, John McCain went from also-ran to the nominee. It really wasn’t much of a race. Since then, he has toured the nation, and the globe, but has he not really been in an all-out campaign mode – unlike both Democrats.
Before the 2008 Presidential Election began, neither Clinton nor Obama had ever faced much of an electoral challenge; let’s face it, Rick Lazio and Allan Keyes are no John McCain. But just as a vaccination introduces a small but manageable dose of a virus into the system in order to build defenses against a disease, the Democratic mudslinging between Clinton and Obama could ultimately inoculate the eventual nominee from Republican attacks, whomever he or she may be. And they will have months of campaign trench-warfare under their belts by the time their party picks a nominee. That’s more time on the road in campaign mode than John McCain has had in his nearly eight decades.
The names Tony Rezko or Reverend Jeremy Wright seem today to be road bumps to the nomination for Barack Obama. But by addressing these issues, and absorbing their impact in March, not October, the junior Senator from Illinois may be able to inoculate himself from these issues later on. Likewise, Travelgate, Whitewater, Monica, Bosnian snipers – and more – will be old news by the time that Hillary gets the nomination, should that come to pass.
In contrast, John McCain has by and large managed to get this far without enduring many attacks. Outside of a below-the-belt article from the New York Times, the worst that McCain has faced was an ad by Mitt Romney which only referred to the Senator metaphorically as a Republican proxy for Hillary Clinton.
Between now and September, John McCain will be an afterthought in the national media, as newspapers, television and the websites large and small all focus on the merits of having either Clinton or Obama in the White House. Come Labor Day, McCain will be the political hare. He may need to be awakened from his nap!
So to my Republican friends, I must say, “be careful what you wish for,” and to my associates across the aisle, I say, “simmer down,” it’s always darkest before the sun rises.