Alright, Enough Of This Stupid Narrative
By: Mark W Adams

Increasingly I'm seeing the center right and way-out wacky right punditocracy announce this sort of meme as they write John McCain's political obituary:
Previous to this economic free fall -- and after his transformative vice-presidential choice -- McCain was about tied in a race he should have been losing by a large margin. The public clearly had questions about Obama's leadership qualities. But the McCain campaign also proved itself capable of constructing an effective narrative: Obama as lightweight celebrity, McCain as maverick reformer. Until history intervened.
I fear this unchallenged pernicious revision of recent events will become the accepted conventional wisdom, the zombie lie of the Fall of 2008 as our children and great grandchildren study this epic period in the fall of the conservative movement.

Ever so briefly, on the heels of an outrageous and dangerous stunt when he vaulted the flaky and clearly unqualified Sarah Palin onto the national stage -- the McCain campaign achieved what is commonly known as a convention "bump" in the polls.

As the name implies, bumps are temporary and level off.  McCain's Palin bump succeeded in deflating Obama's convention bump before it could cycle out, principally because the Palin announcement came so quickly on the heels of Obama's fantastically well received speech in Denver's old Mile High Statium.  With the intensity of the Clintons drama peaking interest for the Villagers (Will they really mean it when they endorse Barack?) and the novelty and natural curiosity about the Thrilla from Wasilla, fence sitters of either stripe began to weigh in as expected. 

But McCain's peak poll numbers never surpassed Obama's pre-Convention levels.  If you look at Pollster.com's trend lines, McCain only crossed above Obama for a couple of days and then headed south.   In other words, at McCain's most artificially inflated best, all he could accomplish was to break even with Obama's "normal" poll results before his Convention ballooned his numbers.  I don't call that a tie.  The few days that McCain polled above Obama as the Republican Convention ended were more of a statisical abberation than any significant change in voter sentiment. 

The highest McCain ever reached was 50% - 51% average for the first week of September and then settled back down as we got to know just how awful Palin is, confirming the suspicion that her pick was just another gimmick, another in a long line of stunts where McCain pulled a tactically unexpected move that neither worked out for the greater strategy of the campaign or the best interests of the nation.

By the time the economy hit crisis proportions, Obama had climbed back to his highest pre-convention numbers and McCain was moving straight down, a trend that has reinforced itself dramatically as the headlines were dominated by the Wall Street bailout.

But to be clear, McCain's "bump" never reached Obama's highs, and Obama's post convention dip never went below where he had consistently been all summer.

Real Clear Politics' gathering of the polls of this critical "bounce" period for both campaigns, the period from the end of the Democratic Convention to the end of the Republican's tells the story.  RCP had Obama +8, +9, +1, +7, +6, +8 and a tie on the eve of the Republican Convention (from 8/25 - 9/5).  Only one post-RNC poll (9/5 - 9-11) put McCain higher than any lead Obama obtained (USA Today/Gallup: McCain +10 on 9/5-9/7) while those others that gave McCain a bounce had him only at +5, +3, +5, and +3.  Three other polls the week after the RNC showed that McCain had eaten into Obama's numbers, but either merely tied him or were just short, Obama +1.

Lehman Brothers
went bankrupt on September 15th and the mega insurance company AIG was bailed out on September 16th.  By this time, Obama was back at the tie, or +2, +5 range, and McCain again back to his underdog status.

Was McCain still in "striking distance?" Sure.  But spare me the McCain as a victim of circumstances canard.  He was losing, as he had been right along.  What the financial crisis did was crystalize a close but losing effort into a lost cause.  The fact that this will be a rout I'll chalk up to Wall Street, but I'll never buy in to the idea that history was somehow unfair to Johnny "Ace" McSame, stealing his moment in the sun. 

McCain needed much more than a gimmicky side-kick as his game changer.  What we'll never know is if he would have dived into the muck of character assassination if he hadn't gotten as desparate as he is now.  Maybe it would have worked in a world that hadn't imploded as we were all glued to CNBC's stock ticker, but then again, would he have gone there without it? 

Judging by the blowback, it probably wouldn't have worked anyway.