You made me hate you. (I didn’t want to do it.)

John McCain and Mitt Romney have much in common.

There is, of course, the obvious: both were nominated by the Republican Party as its candidate for the Presidency of the United States.  Both come from families with a legacy of power and prestige in public service.  Both of them were also-rans in one primary season before ascending to “next in line” status the subsequent time around.  And both of them are married to blondes.

But there’s something else, which my beloved co-blogger and I were discussing just the other day.  (She and I share the sentiments expressed below, as is so often the case.)  I used to like both of them.

Now, let’s be clear.  I’m a registered Democrat, and I’m left of center on most issues.  While I’ve voted for Republicans in the past, they were exceptions to my usual tendencies.  Chances are I would have voted against McCain or Romney in any case.  I’d love to flatter myself that I’m an Independent-minded Voter who chafes at party labels and picks candidates on their Individual Merits.  (And that’s true enough — vote Angus!)  But in truth I’m a pretty safe vote for the donkey.

However, both McCain and Romney were candidates that once I could have at least considered voting for.  And by the time it came to cast my ballot, I had come to loathe them.

Remember the “Straight Talk Express”?  Maybe I was just too addled from sleep deprivation during my residency, but the McCain I remember from 2000 was a candidate who enjoyed a reputation for taking stands that weren’t always popular with his party.  Years later, I heard Joe Biden talking about what it might be like to run against his friend from the Senate if they both got the nominations of their parties, and Biden essentially said that the country would be in good hands either way.  And then came his actual nomination, and he immediately jettisoned every stand I’d ever admired him for (his flip on Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was especially galling).  With the Palin pick the last shred of respect I had for him went flitting off into the winds of oblivion.

And then there’s Romney.  Once upon a nevermind, he positioned himself as a socially moderate, competent technocrat.  Since “socially moderate, competent technocrat” is exactly what I’d like in a chief executive, several shakes of the Etch A Sketch ago he seemed like a candidate I could plausibly support.  Since that time he has shown himself to be little more than a windsock with a strong chin, an impression he seems determined to cement with every passing day.  His flagrant mendacity and crass willingness to politicize tragedy at the first opportunity have only made things worse.  I can’t think of a candidate for President I’ve detested so much at this point in the campaign.

For the life of me, I do not understand this.  I do not understand why candidates go from broader to narrower appeal.  I do not understand why this phenomenon seems restricted to the Right.  (Conservative readers, please feel free to let me know if you disagree.)  I do not particularly relish the notion of being tethered to only one party because the other seems perfectly content to alienate voters like me, and because it forces its candidates to take suffocating positions on the issues.

And I really, really don’t understand why two candidates who once seemed tailor-made for voters like me, voters who would like a genuine choice between two good nominees, shriveled before my eyes into men I would scarcely want to meet, much less have running my country.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. It’s the only way to get the Republican nomination right now.
    This needs to change.

    …. if it takes trolls to do it, even then.

  2. “Remember the “Straight Talk Express”?…”

    This paragraph describes perfectly my process of backing away from McCain in ’08, and you didn’t even mention his pilgrimage to Colorado Springs to ask for and receive an annointing from James Dobson, something McCain hadn’t bothered with previously.

  3. My friend who works in politics used to chafe at the notion of McCain as the maverick moderate. He insisted that while McCain carefully crafted this image, his voting record generally made him one of the more conservative members of Congress (my friend was a staunch liberal working in the late Ted Kennedy’s office). He said that McCain took mavericky, moderate positions on a handful of big issues but that all-in-all, he was not the “liberal conservative” that he was often portrayed as.

    I don’t know if the facts support that but he made that call long before ’08, back in ’04 actually.

    • This is quite likely true.

      I know I’ve had similar opinions about both GOP Senators from Maine, who seemed to cast juuuuuust enough “moderate” votes to keep their reputations, but knew which side their bread was buttered on when it came to crucial party-line votes. (It seems even that degree of heresy is no longer tolerated within the party, what with Snowe’s decision to throw in the towel.)

      • Olympia Snowe is a ‘moderate’ because the rest of the party moved to the right. I remember being linked to old articles from the Reagan-era where Snowe was described as ‘in the mainstream of the Republican party’ which in 1983, was true.

    • I generally blame our lazy media for this.

      Almost every partisan party supporter and politician is going to have one or two heresies from their party. The media loves to find these heresies and blow them out of proportion. They suddenly become a “truth-teller” or “maverick”. It is all very lazy.

  4. There is a part of me that is vaguely troubled by the fact that the main page has only seen one “here’s why you oughtta vote for Romney!” post while it’s seen several pro-Obama posts. Surely I could rub some brain cells together and generate an argument on behalf of Romney. That’s what dispassionate philosophical analysis is for!

    And then I look at the guy and feel all greasy.

    • Try writing it from the perspective of a voter who’s decided that Romney is “the lesser of two evils.”

      “Yeah, I look at Romney and feel all greasy, but here’s why I’ll vote for him anyway…”

    • I would love to be able to consider a Romney vote. If he had simply said “I am a socially moderate, competent technocrat” and let that be enough, I would have at least given it a thought. But noooooooooooooo. We get “severe” conservative Mitt, who appears to be fooling nobody, and whose campaign seems nothing but one prevarication after another. And there’s no way this side of an icy-cold hell that I’m voting for that guy.

      • Russell: Look at it this way: A vote for Romney or Obama is really just a vote for the Masons that really control the country (in alliance with Jewish bankers and Skull & Bones). Two sides of the same coin.

        Seriously though, that survey Kazzy posted the other day makes me more convinced than ever that voting for either one of these guys is a fractional nudge in one direction or the other. We’re not going to see any significant change until we get a real third-party guy/gal in there. And the above mentioned folks will never let that happen.

        • I agree and disagree.

          On a lot of issues, I agree. I think foreign policy is the one area where the two candidates would behave in almost the exact same way, with merely rhetoric separating them. (I don’t really think Romney would plunge us into war with Iran, for example. Whatever he is, he’s not a moron.) And I think economic realities dictate policy more than either campaign would care to admit.

          But certainly as far as social issues go, I think there’s a difference. I have no doubt DADT would still be in place had McCain won, and I have no doubt that Obama’s support for SSM moved the needle significantly on the issue. And contemplating who the two might appoint to SCOTUS is my single greatest motivator in getting to the polls. (I have, in fact, already been.)

          • That’s what they said about George W. and Roberts upheld Obamacare.

            And social issues aren’t just about gay marriage and abortion. Obama has a kill list now. His marijuana policy is a step backwards. Etc.

          • Roberts did uphold Obamacare, I’ll grant. (And even a tepid supporter of the law such as myself thinks the legal argument for doing so was a little wonkus.) But let’s not forget Citizens United, a gigantic blemish on the ass of democracy.

            I would put the “kill list” under foreign policy. And I would put marijuana under domestic policy, but I can see why that’s just semantics. I will certainly agree that US drug policy will remain just as much a shambles under either.

          • I guess my point is that you have to be selective to support one or the other based on a certain area of policy. Gay mariage is obviously going to be important to you so I can understand why Obama would be your guy. If I was inclined to vote for either one of them I could pick Romney for guns I guess and tell myself it’s a good choice.

          • If Romney’s a Keynesian (which he’s done a better job of obscuring than McCain did, if so), he’ll go to war with Iran.

        • ” A vote for Romney or Obama is really just a vote for the Masons that really control the country (in alliance with Jewish bankers and Skull & Bones). ”

          this is a joke right

          i mean


          • Of course it’s a joke. Since we took over, the only Mason that has any say is Jackie.

    • And then I look at the guy and feel all greasy.

      That’s a byproduct of even thinking too hard about a snake oil salesman. It gets on ya.

      I actually had a similar thought once upon a time – write a post defending a vote for Romney, see if I could make the case. I thought it would be an interesting exercise in trying to see things from another pov. But I discovered (perhaps circularly!) that there is no there there. The guy is just a grifter.

      I’ve said it before, but it really is a shame that the once proud tradition of US Conservatism has been reduced to such blathering idiocy. I say this as someone who was very amenable to GHWBush’s policies and view, and even Reagan to a degree.

  5. “I do not understand why candidates go from broader to narrower appeal. I do not understand why this phenomenon seems restricted to the Right. “

    Because conservatives are much more ideologically-driven. They need to see a candidate that matches up with them on most issues while Democrats seem content to accept someone who matches up on only a couple (for example, I have a relative who is fairly conservative but votes Democrat because they are pro-union).

    • Again, this is why the trades need to separate from the AFL-CIO.
      The Democrats are quite happy trouncing the unions, but the teachers & gov’t employees are their favorite lap-dogs.
      There is no rational basis for gov’t employees to be unionized in the first place.

  6. I do not understand why candidates go from broader to narrower appeal. I do not understand why this phenomenon seems restricted to the Right.

    Because elections, particularly in the late game, are thought to be won not by appealing to and reaching out to the middle, moderate voters. Rather, a two-pronged pincer strategy must be employed. The first prong is to pump up the enthusiasm and energy of one’s own base. The second prong is to depress and deflate the enthusiasm and energy of the other party’s base. In other words — I’m never going to convince you to vote for my guy. But I can convince you not to vote at all.

    You’ll recall a few weeks ago when the polls were overwhelmingly in favor of Obama, conservatives spent a lot of energy whining that the polls were biased, the polls couldn’t be trusted, the polls were flawed, and even that the polls were instruments of a conspiracy. A conspiracy to do what? A conspiracy to tell people Romney would lose, with the object of making Republicans and conservatives feel like Romney would lose, so they would stay home instead of voting for Romney.

    Then recall a week or so after that, when Romney did very, very well in the debate. Suddenly, the polls started swinging in Romney’s direction. And the polls were an incredibly accurate, technologically sophisticated and statistically reliable measure of what the country was feeling, and that feeling was great enthusiasm and energy for Romney — and great depression, anxiety, and frustration for Obama.

    I find the whole dynamic more than a little bit narcissistic and purely irrational. But then again, we’re talking about politics here, so I would have been foolish to have expected anything other than this.

    • Has the weighting of the polling changed? My biggest suspicions were always over whether 2008’s turnout was a historical outlier that would regress to the mean in 2012.

      If the weighting has changed, that would explain both part of the swing as well as why Republicans had quieted down about how reliable their numbers happened to be.

      If the weighting has *NOT* changed? Well. Draw your own conclusion from that.

        • 538 had an interesting post about Gallup today. There was a lot of technical detail (how trackers are done, etc) but it boiled down to “I didn’t change the model, Gallup’s about 12% total and has a pretty hefty weight, but historically when Gallup is way off the consensus — Gallup ain’t right”.

          It was an interesting read. Gallup’s tracker is a pretty sizeable chunk of his model, but he still considers state polls more important (sent we don’t elect via popular vote) and Gallup’s historical massive volatilty hasn’t really reduced the weight he gives it because it’s still a very large tracking poll that hits cell phone lines.

  7. In general, the national election doesn’t capture my attention much this cycle.
    I listened to about half of one debate, and I think we have two fairly good candidates.

    Mike Pence becoming governor is a prospect I find deeply distressing.

  8. I do not understand why candidates go from broader to narrower appeal.

    I think part of this is the way you structure your political infrastructure. A presidential primary where a candidate is being chosen starts two years before the actual election day. At that point, only people who are really intense about a particular issue or set of issues is paying attention.

    The more intense you are about something, the more likely you are to volunteer for a campaign – long hours on phonebanking, standing around in public areas gathering signatures to get on the ballot, going door to door to drop off leaflets or sitting on hard chairs stuffing envelopes. Therefore you have to make strong appeals to these people to get volunteers for your campaign. You spend enough time doing that, you start attacting public attention as a one-or-two issue candidate. Not good, but what choice did you have? You’ve got to hope you’ll do well enough that you can reach out to others at the one-year mark, enough that you’ll look credible without losing the people who are manning your campaign offices.

    Personally I think more attention should be paid to the primary system in all this. There’s no structural incentive right now for a candidate not to be extremist in either policy or rhetoric. I’ve read that the reason for primaries is that it would force candidates to put together on-the-ground campaigns across the country, a credible sign that someone had what it took organizationally to be a serious candidate.

    But I think the recent Republican campaign dented that theory badly. None of the not-Romney’s had strong local organizations in every state they did well in – it was all media-driven (and I don’t just mean “news media”) waves that lifted their boats temporarily. What’s the point of having primaries if the local-organization argument is gone?

    • The republicans have never really had much of a ground game to speak of (by which I mean door-to-door). They’re too widespread for it to make much sense (wastes a lot of gas).

      Besides, the Republicans have the authoritarians in their party (and they’re running about half of the Republicans, and more of the primary voters). And they like listening to the TV — and they REALLY like attack ads.

  9. I’d say that a lot of what’s in the post can be explained by something Yglesias harps on all the time: the parties are really well-sorted ideologically. This wasn’t the case for most of the 20th century, when racial politics dominated in such a way that you had conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans just kind of haphazardly strewn about. But that’s not really the case any more, and we’ve reached a point where the most liberal Republican (Snowe or Brown, presumably) is to the right of the most conservative Democrat (Ben Nelson). Elected liberals are all in the Democratic Party; elected conservatives are all in the Republican Party; and the moderates tend to divide up in a pretty non-idiosyncratic fashion.

    So the fact of the matter is that, in order to be an “Independent-Minded Voter”, in your terms, you either have to have a political philosophy that is orthogonal to the the liberal/conservative axis (like libertarians), have no political philosophy at all, or be a moron (the latter two may not be different things). This doesn’t describe very many people, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it doesn’t describe you.

    I’d say this, along with Burt’s observation above, also explains electoral strategy. In the primary, you are appealing to a relatively strictly defined group: your base. So you run to them. In the general, the true undecided middle is basically negligible. You need to work turnout, both on your side and on theirs. I’d say that means what you’re basically going for is “true believer” and “not an idiot”. Romney seems to convey those two things pretty well at this point.

    All of which is to say that I’m not super depressed by any of this. It seems like an inevitable way to play politics, and it’s way more efficient than the former scheme we had, where you actually had to assess the individual personalities of the candidates and divine their intentions on any given thing. Maybe that gives you warm feelings because it makes you such a good citizen or something, but I can almost guarantee in advance how any particular legislator will vote on any particular bill by consulting his or her party membership. At the end of the day, that’s way more useful to me when I’m trying to decide how to vote.

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