Today things got way out of hand for Senator McCain.
In recent weeks he's tried to stir up his crowd and get them enthused by leveling a variety of charges against Barack Obama. Of course he's had plenty of accomplices in stirring up the GOP faithful to intense feelings of animosity towards the junior Senator from Illinois-- everyone from hotheaded talk show hosts to shadowy 'independent' groups who have done their best to convince everyone that if Obama is elected then he will begin the jihad against Christian Americans as soon as he takes away everyone's guns so they can't defend themselves.
So today in a townhall meeting with supporters in Lakeville, Minnesota, some of them urged him to get more negative and personal in his attacks on Senator Obama. And then they booed their own candidate when he complemented his opponent.
"If you want a fight, we will fight," McCain said. "But we will be respectful. I admire Sen. Obama and his accomplishments." When people booed, he cut them off.
In a rally in Waukesha, Wisconsin,
He had drawn boos with his comment: "I have to tell you, he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States."
Things are falling apart for the GOP. I've never heard of a major party Presidential candidate getting booed by his own supporters, at his own rally.
I can understand their frustration. For years some GOP strategists have known they were on the wrong side of a demographic divide, with a new generation (which a few years ago was defined as people under 25, then as people under 30, now as people in their twenties and thirties) leaning heavily towards the Democrats. This has been crystallized by the Iraq war (it is this generation which has been asked to sacrifice, and many if not most know a friend or family member who has fought in Iraq or Afghanistan while the GOP President hasn't even bothered to raise taxes on other generations to pay for the war-- meaning that the debt so incurred will also be passed onto the younger generation-- and many are resentful of that fact; I know some who feel this way, that their generation has been used, personally.) Other issues such as college aid, jobs and GOP cultural intolerance have also helped drive many younger people towards the Democratic party. Also, a lot of 'millenials' really only remember only two Presidents-- Clinton and Bush. They remember that when Clinton was the President people had jobs and Republicans tried to impeach him for sexual indiscretion (yes, I know that there were other issues but in a nutshell that is how it is perceived by most young people.) They've watched Bush as President, with a compliant Congress for most of it, and watched him go to war in Iraq instead of keeping after Osama bin Laden (they most certainly do remember 9/11), they have seen nothing actually get done about Katrina and they've watched the economy tank. Maybe in some cases Democrats have warts out of all this but for people who have paid attention for say the past 15 or 20 years (in which case they may also remember another President Bush who went to war with Iraq and fumbled on the economy) Republican leadership has been a failure, period. In fact, the youngest voters this year were born during the first Bush administration and may not even remember Clinton all that well. But polls show that overwhelmingly they favor Obama and other Democrats because they've seen enough of George W. Bush that the large majority have figured out they don't like him.
Another case in which the Republicans have ended up on the wrong side of a demographic divide is immigration. The GOP's suicidal focus on bashing immigrants has not won them a single seat in Congress, the Senate or a Governorship. In 2006 though it probably cost them at least two seats in Congress (one or possibly two in Arizona and one in Texas) as Hispanics, a demographic that in 2004 went 40% for President Bush, reacted with revulsion to the immigrant bashing and went only 20% GOP for Congress in 2006. John McCain is probably the best candidate the Republicans could have nominated to appeal to Hispanics but the truth is they've driven away a lot of culturally conservative, Christian, patriotic, hardworking voters who they should have been able to appeal to. In many cases Hispanics have relatives on both sides of the border, so GOP ideas like a border fence and requiring a passport to enter and leave the U.S. from Mexico have soured many Hispanics on the GOP (and I'm not even getting into racial profiling here.) Republicans like to point to polls showing that a majority of Americans favor tighter controls on immigration. That may be true but for hardly any is it a defining issue in a campaign. In contrast, the number of Hispanics whose own lives or the lives of their family is directly affected by it is much larger and for many of them it is a defining issue.
At the same time the bitter fruits of GOP economic policy have helped drive many working people, even those who had supported Bush, back to the Democrats. The GOP tried to take some hope from the fact that most of them supported Hillary Clinton instead of Barack Obama during this year's primaries. True enough, but now that the party (including Hillary) is pulling together behind Obama the Republicans are finding that the majority of the working people are now backing him too. Any suggestion that they might stick with the GOP because of God, guns, gays or similar types of 'red-meat' issues that have sometimes helped the Republican candidate in the past evaporated on Sunday, Sept. 14 (that was the day that Lehman Brothers bank failed, setting off the current nonstop economic drubbing that is affecting or likely will soon affect everyone's life for the worse.) Remember we've had thirty years of tax cuts, so-called "trickle down" and deregulation-- so these voters are smart enough to know that the fruit we have today is the result of these policies.) Instructive in categorizing the votes of working people is a new poll out in West Virginia. In the heavily Democratic state, which Hillary Clinton won by an enormous margin over Barack Obama and which Obama tried to downplay during the primaries by only visiting once (and he's not been back since) the new poll shows Obama opening up an eight point margin over McCain. That's pretty good for a state that he almost seemed to not want, not visiting, not even talking about and a state which went by a significant margin for Bush in 2004. McCain may pick off the occasional Hillary fanatic who refuses to ever vote for Obama, but it is clear that by and large the white, working class voters (West Virginia is a state where they predominate) who supported Hillary are now supporting Obama.
The personal attacks and smears (usually a GOP specialty) aren't working very well this year either.
So I can understand Republicans' frustration. Given the growth in the numbers and power of the millenial generation (and some late Gen-X'ers who exhibit some millenial outlook) and the decline in Republican voters (both those who have left the party over the past several years and the fact that on average Republican voters tend to be members of older generations than Democratic voters and therefore-- to be brutally blunt but harshly accurate-- have been dying at a faster rate than Democrats) to the point where they are a clear minority of the electorate it now seems as though the 2004 model won't work for the GOP. Even if the base is energized (as Palin was supposed to and for the most part has done) there just aren't enough Republicans anymore.
After the last time the economy looked this bad the GOP was in the wilderness for a generation (and it might have lasted longer than that if Ike hadn't come out as a Republican and provided them with their first really popular candidate since Teddy Roosevelt). Given the history of the two-party system I have no doubt that the GOP will eventually re-tool and figure out a way to get ahead on some issues that will come up in the future. But they will have to re-tool. The old deregulatory, tax-cuts-will-fix-any-problem, free market culturally restrictive conservative party that keeps looking backwards to Reagan for answers represents the Republican model that no longer appeals to enough Americans to win very many elections.