By Farooq A. Kperogi
Is it over before it is over for McCain? That’s the question the American commentariat is grappling with in light of the massive exodus of prominent Republicans from the McCain camp to the Obama camp in the last days of the presidential campaigns.
In the last few days, notable and influential personalities in the intellectual and moderate wings of the Republican Party have endorsed Obama. And the list keeps growing every day.
This is happening at a time that McCain is slipping badly in the polls and his campaign dogged by internecine in-fighting and palpable frustration.
A Republican president’s granddaughter opens the floodgates
The first prominent Republican to openly declare support for Obama was Susan Eisenhower, the granddaughter of Republican President Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States who ruled from 1953 to 1961. President Dwight, a five-star general in the U.S. Army, is regarded as a redoubtable icon in American conservative circles.
As president of the Eisenhower Group, Inc, Susan Eisenhower is almost like the custodian of the late President Eisenhower’s legacies. Although a lifelong member of the Republican Party who has fought strenuously to swell the ranks of the party on whose platform her grandfather was elected president, Susan Eisenhower bucked her party and endorsed Barack Obama in January this year.
On August 21, 2008 she officially left the Republican Party and became an independent. And on the final day of the Democratic National Convention, she delivered an impassioned speech in support of Obama, which began with, "I stand before you tonight not as a Republican or a Democrat, but as an American."
She told newsmen that the inspiration behind her support for Obama was her conviction that he is the only candidate who can build a national consensus on the issues most important to her--energy, global warming, an aging population and America's standing in the world.
“Barack Obama will really be in a singular position to attract moderate Republicans," she told the Newsweek. "I wanted to do what many people did for my grandfather in 1952. He was hugely aided in his quest for the presidency by Democrats for Eisenhower. There's a long and fine tradition of crossover voters."
Other prominent Republican political families endorse Obama
Susan Eisenhower’s bold decision to break with family tradition and endorse Obama opened the floodgates to other symbolic family endorsements. Julie Nixon Eisenhower, daughter of former President Richard Nixon (who was vice president under Eisenhower and the 37th president of the United States) and granddaughter-in law of Dwight D. Eisenhower, also endorsed Obama.
This endorsement is doubly significant because it represents the goodwill and synchronicity of two prominent and revered Republican political families: the Eisenhower political family to which she is married and the Nixon political family, her own family on the paternal side.
Julie was not as public and dramatic with her support for Obama as Susan was. It was the Associated Press, America’s preeminent news agency, that first reported on April 22, 2008 that records from the American Federal Election Commission showed that Julie Nixon Eisenhower had contributed $2,300 (about 276,000 naira) to the Obama campaign—the maximum amount allowed by law for an individual to contribute to a political candidate.
Records show she made the contributions between February and March this year, that is, when Obama was still fighting for the nomination of his party. That her support for Obama was private made it even more symbolically consequential.
As if these symbolic Republican family endorsements were not devastating enough for McCain, CC Goldwater, granddaughter of Barry Goldwater (former Arizona Senator and Republican Presidential candidate in 1964) endorsed Obama on behalf of herself, her sibling, and some of her cousins.
This endorsement is a heavy blow to McCain in more ways than one. First, McCain, a senator from Arizona, is the immediate successor to Barry Goldwater in the U.S. Senate. (Goldwater ended his career in the U.S. Senate in 1987. He died in 1998 at the age of 89).
But more importantly, like McCain, Goldwater was the Republican Party's nominee for President in the 1964 election. And, like McCain who was a captain in the U.S. Navy, Goldwater served in the U.S. military. He retired as a Major General in the U.S. Air Force Reserve before going into politics.
Similarly, Goldwater embodied American conservatism for a generation. He was frequently referred to as "Mr. Conservative" in numerous media articles because he was credited for inspiring the rebirth of the American conservative political movement in the 1960s.
“We believe strongly in what our grandfather stood for: honesty, integrity, and personal freedom, free from political maneuvering and fear tactics,” CC Goldwater, the granddaughter of Barry Goldwater, said in a blog on the liberal, fiercely pro-Obama Huffington Post. “Nothing about McCain, except for maybe a uniform, compares to the same ideology of what Goldwater stood for as a politician.”
She adds: “Nothing about the Republican ticket offers the hope America needs to regain its standing in the world. That’s why we’re going to support Barack Obama.”
Similarly, Christopher Buckley, 55, author and son of late American conservative icon William F. Buckley and early supporter of McCain (he, in fact, wrote speeches for McCain), caused a stir in conservative circles when he endorsed Obama.
Christopher’s father, William Buckley, founded the National Review, America’s most respected and influential conservative newsmagazine. Founded in 1955, the Review is considered the hub of American conservative intellectual activity.
In a widely circulated article titled, “Sorry, Dad, I’m voting for Obama” first published in the Daily Beast blog, Christopher Buckley joined the lengthening list of “Obamacans” (Republicans who are so disillusioned with McCain that they have decided to jump ship and support Obama).
“Let me be the latest conservative/libertarian/whatever to leap onto the Barack Obama bandwagon,” he wrote. “It’s a good thing my dear old mum and pup are no longer alive. They’d cut off my allowance.”
Buckley’s endorsement of Obama so distressed conservative Republicans that they threatened to cancel their subscription (and withhold advertising) to the National Review in which he wrote a regular column. In response to frenetic and furious emails calling for his head, he resigned his column from the magazine his father almost singlehandedly founded.
The intellectual wing of the Republican Party jump ship too
It is not only deep-rooted, high-profile Republican families that are leaving McCain in the lurch; many prominent members of the intellectual wing of the Republican Party have also publicly declared support for Obama. For most of them, McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate is the motivation for supporting Obama.
Andrew Bacevich, a nationally renowned conservative professor at Boston University is perhaps the earliest conservative intellectual to support Obama. In an article he wrote for The American Conservative on March 24, 2008, Bacevich argued that Obama is the best choice for conservatives in this election. “This liberal Democrat,” he said, “has promised to end the U.S. combat role in Iraq,” adding: “Contained within that promise, if fulfilled, lies some modest prospect of a conservative revival."
Prominent nationally syndicated conservative columnist Kathleen Parker, an early supporter of Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin, shocked her conservative fans when she wrote in late September this year that the Alaska governor is "out of her league" and should resign from the presidential ticket “for the good of the party."
“It was fun while it lasted," Parker wrote. "Palin’s recent interviews with Charles Gibson, Sean Hannity, and now Katie Couric have all revealed an attractive, earnest, confident candidate who is clearly out of her league." She was referring to the series of interviews Sarah Palin granted early in the campaign season that exposed her mortifying lack of familiarity with basic national and foreign policy issues.
After her column was published, Parker received over 12,000 angry emails from disillusioned Republican sympathizers. Some of the respondents said Parker’s mother should have aborted her and thrown her in a dumpster. The irony of this kind of response is that one of the core issues that energize the American conservative movement is their uncompromising opposition to abortion under kind of circumstance.
Another respected voice in conservative intellectual circles who has endorsed Obama is New York Times columnist David Brooks, who began his career at the National Review. He called Sarah Palin “a cancer on the Republican Party.”
Then the respected former publisher of the National Review and current editor-in-chief of Texas-based D Magazine, Wick Allison, endorsed Obama in a widely circulated article titled, “A conservative for Obama.”
But it wasn’t just his endorsement that worried the Republican Party; it was also the stinging indictment of the whole philosophy of his party and of John McCain that riled.
"Today it is conservatives, not liberals, who talk with alarming bellicosity about making the world 'safe for democracy,'" Allison wrote in the September 27 issue of D Magazine. "It is John McCain who says America's job is to 'defeat evil,' a theological expansion of the nation's mission that would make George Washington cough out his wooden teeth.
"This kind of conservatism, which is not conservative at all, has produced financial mismanagement, the waste of human lives, the loss of moral authority, and the wreckage of our economy that McCain now threatens to make worse," he added.
Other prominent conservative intellectuals who have abandoned McCain include: Christopher Hitchens (who said McCain "lacks the character and temperament to be president" and has characterized Palin as a "disgrace"), Peggy Noonan, (Ronald Reagan's greatest speechwriter and columnist with the Wall Street Journal who condemned Sarah Palin as a "symptom and expression of a new vulgarization of American politics"), Francis Fukuyama (who said "Obama is the only [presidential candidate] who can escape the polarization" of US politics), and so on.
The last straw that would break McCain’s back
It would seem that the most politically devastating of the desertions come from politicians. The first notable Republican politician to forsake McCain in recent time is former Secretary of State Colin Powell, one of the most powerful and prized members of the Republican Party. On October 19, Powell abandoned McCain, his longtime friend to whose campaign he contributed the highest amount an individual is allowed under U.S. electoral laws, in favor of Obama.
"I think he is a transformational figure, he is a new generation coming onto the world stage, onto the American stage, and for that reason I'll be voting for Sen. Barack Obama," Powell said of Obama on the National Broadcasting Corporation (NBC), one of America’s four major TV networks.
Since Powell’s high-status endorsement, a steady stream of prominent Republicans have followed Powell’s example and crossed party lines to endorse Obama.
Former Massachusetts Republican Governor William Weld endorsed Obama shortly after Powell. In a statement, Weld called Obama a “once-in-a-lifetime candidate who will transform our politics and restore America’s standing in the world.”
Similarly, former Republican Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson jumped the sinking McCain ship and endorsed Obama. “I think we have in Barack Obama the clear possibility of a truly great president,” he said. “I would contend that it’s the most important election of my lifetime.”
And Tricia Moseley, another lifelong member of the Republican Party and former staffer for the late Senator Strom Thurmond, the one-time segregationist from South Carolina, endorsed Obama because she said she was attracted to his positions on education and the economy.
Earlier in the week, Ken Adelman, a prominent conservative on foreign policy matters, announced his support for Obama, telling the New Yorker that his decision was based on his respect for Obama’s temperament and judgment.
Adelman called McCain “impetuous, inconsistent, and imprudent; ending up just plain weird” in his handling of the U.S. economic crisis. He also said he was unsettled by McCain’s choice of running mate. “Not only is Sarah Palin not close to being acceptable in high office—I would not have hired her for even a mid-level post in the arms-control agency,” Adelman said.
The biggest surprise came from Scott McClellan, a former spokesman for President George W. Bush. He endorsed Obama last week to the amazement of political watchers. USA Today reported McClellan as saying that Obama has “the best chance of changing the way Washington works.”
The latest, and perhaps the most painful, blow to the McCain campaign is the defection of Charles Fried, a Harvard Law professor and former Solicitor General in the Reagan administration who worked as a prominent member for the McCain campaign until recently.
He announced that he had already voted for Obama. As the Wall Street Journal put it, “Fried’s vote for the Democratic ticket is particularly harsh, as he was associated with the McCain campaign.”
He said he couldn’t bring himself to vote for McCain because of his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate.
Trend forecasts a landslide for Obama
In America’s recent political history, there have only been two moments that parallel the current massive cross-over of prominent party loyalists to a rival party. The first notable instance was in 1953 when Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower ran for president. Several prominent Democrats (dubbed “Eisenhower Democrats”) at the time crossed party lines and voted for the Republican candidate. He won in a landslide.
Another historical parallel was the early 1980s when Ronal Reagan, to quote Obama, "was able to tap into the discontent of the American people and...to get Democrats to vote Republican— they were called Reagan Democrats." Reagan also won in a landslide.
Many political pundits argue that if history is any guide, Obama may be headed for a landslide too. Former Reagan political adviser Ed Rollins echoed this sentiment. "Barack has met the threshold," Rollins said. "Once Reagan met the threshold, people wanted to get rid of Carter and they did in a landslide. This is going to turn into a landslide."
Why Obama is attracting Republicans
Obama’s entry into America’s political stage was heralded by a transcendent message that sought to rise superior to America’s traditional political and racial fault-lines.
In his 2004 Democratic National Convention Keynote Address, which launched him into national prominence, Obama said, among other things: “there is not a liberal America and a conservative America -- there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America -- there’s the United States of America.”
It was the first time in a long while that an American politician consciously tried to transcend partisanship in a partisan political gathering such as the Democratic convention. That speech won him huge political capital.
Since then he has sought to consciously cultivate the affection of Republicans and independents. On February 12, 2008, for instance, he said, "We are bringing together Democrats and independents, and yes, some Republicans. I know there's -- I meet them when I'm shaking hands afterwards. There's one right there. An Obamacan, that's what we call them."
In another speech, he said, "We, as Democrats right now, should tap into the discontent of Republicans. I want some Obama Republicans!"
Former Republican Party congressman Joe Scarborough said many conservatives—including officials of the current Bush administration and even evangelical Christians—sent him enthusiastic e-mails after seeing Obama's post-election speeches in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina. "He doesn't attack Republicans, he doesn't attack whites, and he never seems to draw these dividing lines that Bill Clinton [does]," Scarborough told Newsweek.
Obama now leads McCain among white male voters
As a result of the historic defections from the Republican Party, Obama is now set to win the largest share of white male voters of any Democrat since the 1960s, according Gallup and Pew Research Center polling.
Before the mid-point of September, Obama’s support among white males was less than 40 percent. Now it is almost 50 percent—the highest number for a Democrat since Jimmy Carter who won 47 percent of white male votes. Before Carter, Lyndon Johnson won a clear majority of white male votes in 1964.
Since then, according to Politico.com, no Democrat has won a majority of white male voters. Not even Bill Clinton.
If the current polls endure till Election Day, McCain’s support among white males may go down in the annals as the lowest for a Republican candidate since 1964. All thanks to the growing rank of Obamacans.