How the GOP threw the 2008 presidential election (sort of)


Barack Obama will soon be inaugurated as the United States’ 44th President, a feat of unparalleled significance in our history. I don’t want to take anything away from this monumental victory, but there is a reason that McCain didn’t win (and it’s not Sarah Palin).

After eight years of a Republican administration that devastated so many aspects of our nation (no need to repeat the list), the GOP knew it would be a losing battle trying to put another Republican in the White House. Furthermore, why would they want to? With our economy in dire straights and a foreign policy situation long out of our control (and is tenuously looking to get worse), another Republican president in 2008 would run a tarnished administration from the start.

The challenges that Obama faces as president would be the same for any new administration taking the reigns from Bush, although the nation will hold a new Democratic president to higher expectations than a Republican president. Therefore, it is more likely for a Democratic president to appear an ineffectual leader over the next four years than it would if McCain had won the presidency. The Republicans need the next four years to distance their party from the meager job the Bush administration has done under the banner of the GOP.

John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid was, essentially, the first big move in a strategy to put a Republican in the White House in 2012. When McCain came out ahead of the other Republican candidates in the primaries, I admit that I was a bit surprised. He has run a few lackluster primary campaigns in the past, and not even his Straight Talk Express made much of an impression on Republican Party leaders. For the 2008 election, however, the GOP couldn’t afford to prop up one of their emerging superstars (Romney and Huckabee come to mind) in the lurking shadow of President Bush’s abysmal approval rating. They needed a fall-guy to put in place so they could bide their time until the stench of the Bush v.2 legacy was out of people’s noses. Who better than good ol’ John McCain, a man who has wanted to be president more than anyone and who cowers before party leader reprimands?

2008 was the last election that McCain could feasibly run for president. He is old, but not that old. Still, his age was a major detracting issue throughout his campaign. He remained the tenacious politician he is known for, and his campaign never wavered in its pursuit of presidential victory. After his loss, McCain remains a US Senator, but will never have a chance at a presidential bid again. He will be remembered as a hero to some for his historic campaign with Sarah Palin, but he has been stripped of his remaining potential. The GOP really has no use for him any longer; his loss in 2008 was his Swan Song. By putting John McCain as the Republican front-runner (pitted against negative Bush associations and Obama’s record-breaking campaign), they gave him the political kiss of death.

That isn’t to say that McCain’s loss was altogether intentional. Instead, the GOP was able to craft a win-win situation for themselves. Either they put yet another puppet in office to continue their agenda, or they let a Democrat swim against the tide of debris left by Bush/Cheney. What the GOP didn’t do was sacrifice a candidate that would truly strengthen the party.

While the nation begins to focus on an Obama/Biden presidency, the GOP is scrambling to reconfigure its power structure and organization, much like the Democrats were forced to do in 2004. There are already signs of some internal squabbling following the election, but the Republican Party has time on their side (not to mention President Obama will absorb much of the blame for our nation’s shortcomings over the next few years). Mitt Romney is already preparing for a 2012 presidential bid, and others who fared unsuccessfully in the GOP 2008 primaries probably haven’t taken their eyes off the presidency either.

What’s absurd is that there is talk of Sarah Palin bidding for the presidency in 2012. If John McCain was a fall-guy for the GOP, Palin was simply a bonus. As more and more evidence comes out about her blatant political ineptitude (as if we needed more convincing), it is clear what her role was on the McCain ticket. She was not on the bill to generate votes, but to energize the large right-wing evangelical (and mainly rural) base that the GOP has worked so hard to win over since the heydays of Jerry Falwell. The same electorate that Karl Rove identified as key to a winning strategy for Bush/Cheney in 2000 were lukewarm on McCain until Palin entered the race (as evidenced by the surge in poll results following the RNC). If the Republicans knew they had a very slim chance of a presidential victory in 2008, the best use for their lead ticket was to mobilize voters for the next election in 2012.

It may be too early to tell if these Republican candidates’ hopes of a 2012 run are simply reactionary to a Republican defeat or if it’s part of a larger plan, but there is no doubt that the GOP already has a strategy in motion to once again control the executive branch. That’s what political parties are for, after all, so it’s unlikely that someone like Romney would launch a 4-year bid for the presidency (Obama’s 20-month campaign was exhausting enough as it is). While we can look forward to President Obama and a Democratic majority, we shouldn’t ignore the possibility that the GOP simply cut their losses in 2008 with a McCain/Palin ticket and has had their eyes on 2012 all along. The next presidential election may prove to be much more difficult for Democrats to win.