THE McCAIN BUBBLE….Jon Cohn notes that despite the grueling, muddy, endless Democratic primary campaign — complete with Wrightgate, Bittergate, Bowlinggate, Tuzlagate, etc. — Gallup’s tracking polls that match up Obama and Clinton vs. John McCain have stayed as flat as Tom Frank’s Kansas prairie over the past month. None of this stuff has helped McCain by even a percentage point. He was stuck at 45% a month ago and he’s stuck at 45% today. Jon takes a guess at what’s going on:
That 45 percent figure represents a ceiling of his support.
After all, barring some outside shock to the political system, there is no reason to think McCain’s numbers will go up. People already have overwhelmingly positive feelings about him — stronger than about either of the Democratic candidates. They see him as a likeable, principled war hero whom they trust on national security. Very few realize that he has supported privatizing Social Security, that he opposes universal health insurance, that he supports free trade without qualification, and so on. Once the voters learn these things, at least some of them are likely to abandon him.
If anything, McCain has the look of an Internet stock circa 1999: Great numbers, lousy fundamentals.
This seems mostly right to me. It could prove to be wrong if the Democratic campaign goes all the way to the convention and turns into 1972, but assuming that Hillary faces reality a little sooner than that, I don’t think much harm will be done to Democratic chances in the fall.
Mainly this is because I agree with Jon and then some: McCain simply isn’t as strong a candidate as people seem to think he is. Factors working against him include Bush fatigue, a declining economy, his age, his need to pander heavily to the Christian right, his hawkishness in a year when the public isn’t feeling very hawkish, his history of flip flopping for transparently political reasons, and a portfolio of extremely unpopular positions (like privatizing Social Security) that Democrats can make a lot of hay with in the fall. What’s more — and go ahead, call me an optimist — I suspect that at some point there’s going to be a press backlash against McCain. His media image is a bubble, sustained by a sort of childlike faith, and once that faith starts to wobble — something that may already have started — the bubble is likely to pop. Before long, I suspect that a lot of reporters are going to start recognizing his faux openness as more faux than open.
Of course, this all assumes that Hillary Clinton decides not to be completely suicidal and take down the party in a huge ball of flames. But I don’t think she will. Even the Clintons have to bow to reality eventually.