Unifying the Parties

John McCain has had a four months’ long head start on unifying the Republican Party around his candidacy, but signs remain that the GOP is fractured or unenthusiastic about his bid for the White House. Barack Obama has had less than a week to unify the Democrats and the early signs are that the wounds left by the full-cycle primary contest have already begun to heal. This morning’s Washington Post highlights the difficulty McCain is having with some evangelicals. Bob Novak details how McCain’s camp danced with evangelical leader James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, failing to arrange a mutually acceptable meeting. Dobson invited McCain to Colorado Springs. McCain declined but invited Dobson to meet him in Denver. The meeting never happened. McCain could not appear to be going hat-in-hand to any special interest, even a powerful one like Dobson. And, after eight years of having the White House return his calls, Dobson was not going to bring the mountain to McCain. Conservative evangelicals are to the GOP what labor unions have been to the Democrats, the core of the core, the organizational and numerical base of the party, those who not only provide overwhelming electoral margins but who send in the foot soldiers to knock on doors, distribute literature, make phone calls, drive voters to the polls, etc. Conservative evangelicals will not flee to the Democrats if they find McCain insufficiently devoted to their cause, but they might stay home, which would be lethal not only to McCain’s candidacy but to that of other down-ballot Republicans. Barack Obama, on the other hand, enjoyed his first weekend in the Obama-Clinton mutual admiration society. Clinton ended her campaign on Saturday with the kind of full-throttled endorsement of Obama that had to soften even her most die-hard supporters. What is more to the point, Clinton reached the conclusion that she needed to support Obama after her congressional supporters insisted that she do so after the final round of voting last Tuesday. Democrats recognize that this should be their year, with Bush’s approval ratings in the tank and most Americans convinced the country is on the wrong path. They insisted that Clinton get with the program and she did. Her supporters will not be far behind. Anecdotal evidence abounds. A thoroughly unscientific, informal poll of my fellow breakfast diners at a B&B in Lambertville, New Jersey this past weekend showed unanimous support for the proposition that the Republicans have made a hash of everything and that the only remedy was to vote for Obama. My neighbors had amicably dealt with their primary differences: Kristin had an Obama sticker on her car and Jared had a Clinton sticker on his. Saturday morning, he removed his Clinton sticker and put on an Obama one. It is always easier for the party that has been out of power to unite behind the need to win the next election. The entrenched sense of entitlement that comes with access to power surely accounts for James Dobson’s unwillingness to drive the two hours from Colorado Springs to Denver. John McCain is no George W. Bush. But, as Al Gore found out, when following a two term president of your own party, you do not get to run entirely as your own man. Look for Obama to open up a wide lead in the polls by the end of the month. Michael Sean Winters
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