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5 Myths About an Election of Mythic Proportions
The fact that roughly a third of the Democratic House majority sits in seats with Republican underpinnings (at least at the presidential level) is almost certain to keep a liberal dream agenda from moving through Congress. The first rule of politics is survival, and if these new arrivals to Washington want to stick around, they are likely to build centrist voting records between now and 2010.
4. A Republican candidate could have won the presidency this year.
I doubt it. In the hastily penned postmortems of campaign '08, much of the blame for McCain's loss seems to have fallen at the feet of the candidate and his advisers, who (so the narrative goes) made a series of lousy strategic decisions that wound up costing the Arizona senator the White House. There's little question that some of the choices McCain and his team made -- the most obvious being the impulsive decision to suspend his campaign and try to broker a deal on the financial rescue bill, only to see his efforts blow up in his face -- did not help. But a look at this year's political atmospherics suggests that the environment was so badly poisoned that no Republican -- not Mitt Romney, not Mike Huckabee, not even the potential future GOP savior, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal -- could have beaten Obama on Nov. 4.
Why not? Three words (and a middle initial): President George W. Bush.
In the national exit poll, more than seven in 10 voters said that they disapproved of the job Bush was doing; not surprisingly, Obama resoundingly won that group, 67 percent to 31 percent. But here's an even more stunning fact: While 7 percent of the exit-poll sample strongly approved of the job Bush was doing, a whopping 51 percent strongly disapproved. Obama won those strong disapprovers 82 percent to 16 percent. And Bush's approval numbers looked grim for the GOP even before the September financial meltdown.
Just one in five voters in the national exit polls said that the country was "generally going in the right direction." McCain won that group 71 percent to Obama's 27 percent. But among the 75 percent of voters who said that the country was "seriously off on the wrong track," Obama had a thumping 26-point edge.
Those numbers speak to the damage that eight years of the Bush administration have done to the Republican brand. It's a burden that any candidate running for president with an "R" after his -- or her -- name would have had to drag around the country.
5. McCain made a huge mistake in picking Sarah Palin.
No subject is more likely to break up a dinner party early than the Alaska governor McCain chose as his running mate. Everyone not only has an opinion about her qualifications (or lack thereof) but also feels it necessary to share those opinions with anyone within shouting range.
Love her or loathe her, the data appear somewhere close to conclusive that Palin did little to help -- and, in fact, did some to hurt -- McCain's attempts to reach out to independents and Democrats. But just because Palin doesn't appear to have helped McCain move to the middle doesn't mean that picking her was the wrong move.
Remember where McCain found himself this past summer. He had won the Republican nomination, but the GOP base clearly felt little buy-in into his campaign. A slew of national polls reflected that energy gap, with Democrats revved up about the election and their candidate and Republicans somewhere between tepid and glum.
Enter Palin, who was embraced with a bear hug by the party's conservative base. All of a sudden, cultural conservatives were thrilled at the chance to put "one of their own" in the White House. In fact, of the 60 percent of voters who told exit pollsters that McCain's choice of Palin was a "factor" in their final decision, the Arizona senator won 56 percent to 43 percent.
For skittish conservatives looking for more evidence that McCain understood their needs and concerns, Palin did the trick. It's hard to imagine conservatives rallying to McCain -- even to the relatively limited extent that they did -- without Palin on the ticket. And without the base, McCain's loss could have been far worse.
Which myths did we miss? Let the conversation begin!
Chris Cillizza covers the White House for The Washington Post and writes "The Fix," a political blog, on washingtonpost.com.