Politics & Policy

Political Weather Report

Factors out of candidates' control.

The day is dawning warm and bright for John McCain. But before basking in the good news, he has to ponder the chance that political weather will turn cold and dark.

Alan Greenspan, recently said that the there is at least a 50-percent chance of a recession. Ben Bernanke was not quite as specific but little more optimistic. “The outlook for the economy has worsened in recent months,” he told a Senate committee.

If the United States goes into recession this year, McCain will find it hard to win. Throughout the history of the American elections, recessions have led the voters to punish the party holding the presidency. As conservatives know all too well, McCain has broken ranks with the administration on economic issues. Despite this distance, he would still pay a steep political price for a downturn.

As for Iraq, the troop surge has reduced violence and thus rendered the issue less prominent. Polls show that the American public has become more optimistic and less ready to support withdrawal. Still, it’s unlikely that Iraq will be a big net plus for McCain. A majority thinks that the war was a mistake and a plurality thinks Democrats would make better decisions about it.

That’s the bad news for McCain. The good news is that Hillary Clinton has regained a serious chance at the Democratic nomination.

The “red phone” ad may have helped her edge out Obama in the Texas primary, but it would backfire in a general election. If the phone rings, the ad suggests, we need “someone who already knows the world’s leaders, knows the military — someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world.”

That description fits McCain much better than it fits either Democrat.

A Clinton nomination would also flip the corruption issue. Whereas voters associate John McCain with campaign-finance reform, they link Hillary Clinton to campaign-finance abuse.

There has been speculation that McCain could suffer from the age issue. He would be 72 at the time of the next inauguration, so he would be the oldest person ever to become president. He looks it.

Though eleven years younger, Hillary Clinton also looks her age — especially in high-definition photographs. “I’ve earned every wrinkle on my face,” she told a Texas crowd. Voters would not see a dramatic age contrast between her and McCain.

Of course, Obama may shake off the Texas and Ohio setbacks and go on to the nomination. But his road to Denver just got longer. Though the convention wisdom holds that time is on his side, the opposite may well be true.

Sooner or later, exhaustion will overtake excitement.

Obama has aroused such passion that some of his fans have fainted at rallies. Such emotion cannot last. In politics as in love, there comes a time where heartbeats slow down and people realize that the object of their affection is a flawed mortal.

Reporters have already reached that point. The “Obama Phenomenon” story is getting old, and they’re looking for something new. Though most may feel an ideological and personal affinity for Obama, they have a professional interest in hyping turmoil. As Roger Ailes famously put it, they care most about three things: pictures, attacks, and mistakes. His contentious press conference on NAFTA and Rezko supplied all three.

Expect to see similar moments in the weeks ahead as intra-party barrages continue and battle fatigue sets in.

Meanwhile, John McCain will be resting up, and hoping for fair weather in the fall.

– John J. Pitney Jr. is the Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College.


The Latest