Three weeks or so ago it looked like the contest would be fought on John McCain’s chosen territory. Russia’s invasion of Georgia had put national security up in lights. ~Philip Stephens
I have absolutely no idea why anyone would believe this. During the fighting in Georgia, McCain continued to trail, as he did until his brief convention/Palin bump, and only a very small part of the public considers foreign policy questions a top priority. It’s true that Lehman’s bankruptcy, Paulson’s proposal and McCain’s utterly ridiculous handling of the entire situation combined to sabotage his campaign, but before 9/15 the campaign was not going to be fought on McCain’s turf. The public was already overwhelmingly focused on economic matters, which is why the Republican convention seemed at times more like a convention of oil company employees, so enthusiastically and obsessively did they talk about drilling. Besides being a P.R. stunt, a desperate bid to generate enthusiasm for a moribund campaign and the default choice once Lieberman was ruled out, selecting Palin was clearly aimed at emphasizing the GOP’s domestic drilling preoccupation, which had seemed to be the only issue where Republicans had enjoyed any advantage all year. As for national security, one of the main criticisms of the Palin selection even by those generally on the right was that choosing Palin had pushed national security to the back burner, which matched up with the public’s own priorities. Indeed, Iraq had receded from the campaign almost entirely. Were it not for McCain’s bizarre obsession with Georgia, Russian actions would scarcely have registered in our election. The trouble that McCain had after 9/15 was that he had embraced drilling (and tax cuts) as more or less the entirety of his economic message, and had made it very clear that he was fighting the election on an economic platform of sorts. When the financial crisis worsened and he flailed around attempting to look relevant, his main economic themes were pushed to the side and his bumbling in his response to the crisis reinforced the impression that he had no idea what he was doing or what he was talking about. The point is that national security was not going to be at the center of the campaign. Indeed, one of the reasons why Obama was widely regarded as the winner last week was that most viewers were not particularly concerned with McCain’s supposed areas of expertise. McCain had already acknowledged that in the weeks prior to 9/15, and the Palin pick made that even more clear. So the crisis did notn upend the race, but gave added strength to the ticket that had been leading for essentially the entire summer.