Now that the Mittmentum has apparently faded enough to cause the governor to suspend his campaign, and John McCain is the presumptive nominee of his party, I've been watching talking heads all day speculating about the eminent demise of the Democratic effort at the hands of the dueling candidates, while McCain spends his time husbanding his cash and fine tuning his attacks on the Democratic candidate.
There are, of course, a few glaring flaws in this analysis. First, both Democrats are raising money at rates that McCain would give his eye teeth for, so the cash advantages look likely to be illusory. Second, turnout in Democratic primaries has been orders of magnitude stronger than it has in Republican contests, indicating a much more energized party, regardless of the state of the candidacies within it - Democrats have finally woken up, and it seems unlikely that we will go back to sleep so quickly. Third, despite the pasting each Democrat is administering to the other at this point, much of the brawling has the feel of a family feud to me, and I'd make a large wager that while the choice between the Clinton and Obama may be bruising for Democrats, the choice between either one and McCain is a no-brainer. Moreover, despite the much vaunted "independent appeal" of Senator McCain, that appeal is best illustrated by the ever-present Joe Lieberman in every photo-op McCain appears for, and I'll make another wager that since that "bipartisanship" represents a consensus to keep doing exactly what the American people (including an overwhelming number of independents) have repeatedly said they don't want their government to do, it's pretty thin gruel, as campaign fodder goes.
All of that said, it is possible that: 1-the Republicans will start raising money at their usual staggering rate, 2- the Republican base will swallow hard and rally behind McCain, 3 - the internecine warfare will get ugly enough to discourage the Democrats and take them off message, and 4 - the "bipartisanship" meme will get so much press play that Democrats will start to think that any compromise, no matter how damaging to Democratic principles, will be worth making, just for the sake of compromise (this last is the most worrying possibility, since so many Democrats appear to be suffering from the political equivalent of Stockholm syndrome anyway). I don't think it's likely, but it's possible.
There's a solution to these worries, though, and I wish the Democratic candidates would avail themselves of it. John McCain made a remarkable speech before the CPAC conference of "conservatives" this afternoon, just after Romney saved him from getting torn apart by that same crowd by resigning from the race (a secondary entertainment of the speech was watching the crowd try to decide how to react to a man they were obviously fully prepared to pillory up until the point at which his main competitor for the nomination withdrew, leaving them with no choices).
Despite the fact that McCain's use of the phrase "my friends" has moved from an inclusive gesture to a verbal tic, it was one of the best speeches I've seen him give (not a tall hill to climb, but still...). He was forthright about his differences, and did his very best to dress his subsequent pandering up in believable clothing. It was also pretty well received (it remains to be seen if the drooling idiots who constitute the "conservative intelligentsia" responsible for the current state of conservatism in this country were mollified, but they have little choice, so it seems likely.)
In that speech, though, is a plan for the Democrats, one which will keep them from squandering any time they should be spending attacking Republicans by attacking each other. The policy prescriptions embodied in the speech could easily be summarized in three words:
"Four More Years"
As a way to appeal to the "conservative" base of his party, McCain signed on to virtually every aspect of the Bush administration's policies. He wants to make the tax cuts he rightly objected to (as being unprecedented and immoral in wartime) permanent. He wants to empower the intelligence services and the executive branch in general to continue to ride roughshod over the Constitution and its protections of our rights as citizens. He thinks Justices Roberts and Alito were great additions to the Supreme Court, and wants to appoint more judges whose jurisprudence is subservient to full-throated support of a conservative agenda that would make our forefathers shudder. He wants to continue with a private "solution" to the health care crisis that is clearly no solution. He wants to cut taxes despite a deficit that has exploded in the last seven years. He wants to "reform" the entitlement programs to solve the crisis in their funding that doesn't exist. And he wants to stay the course in Iraq (for as much as a hundred years, apparently).
In short, he provided so many fat pitches to his democratic opponents that if either one of them can't bludgeon him to political death with his own words in two weeks, they don't deserve to be president. I propose that the Democratic primary contest from now on consist of seeing who can do the best job of exposing McCain's rhetoric for the amalgam of harebrained policy and transparent hogwash that it is, and leave off attacking each other entirely. Yes, that exposure should include a picture of what each candidate proposes to do instead, but there is so much material there that marries McCain to the most unpopular president in modern history that it would be a crime not to take advantage of it.
Either Democrat could tear the cover off this ball repeatedly, and they should, because he'll keep pitching them, and every time he does, he'll lose votes. They should eviscerate him rhetorically every time he opens his mouth, and the Democratic party should nominate the one who does the best job of doing that. My state's primary is over, and I'm not a donor whose largesse will buy any policy concessions, but I've got a check filled out with everything but the name. The first candidate that does a tap dance on McCain's speech and its promises that leaves me proud to be a Democrat again gets it.