One thing that has always distinguished the Republicans from the Democrats is their ability to close ranks and toe the party line. In years past, they have reliably put aside their reservations about this or that candidate and shown up and voted. Many credit turnout alone as the major factor behind the results of the last two presidential elections. We see evidence of this in a recent poll of "likely voters" by USA Today/Gallup. The "likely voter" poll shows Sen. McCain ahead of Sen. Obama while the registered voter poll shows Sen. Obama ahead of Sen. McCain (see Who are Likely Voters and When Do They Matter? for a description of the difference between registered voters and likely voters as defined by the Gallup orgnization). Setting aside the fact that polls at this point in the race are meaningless (especially those that are over a month old) and getting back to my point, Republicans tend to be much more unified and the Democrats much less so (for a recent example one need only remember the Democratic National Committee's rules and bylaws committee meeting).
This campaign was shaping up differently. Well, the Republican rank and file may have been unified (as the likely voter poll suggests), but the top brass seemed much less so. First there was the criticism from both the current administration and the McCain campaign regarding Sen. Obama's stance on Iran. The message from the Republicans was unified: President Bush compared Sen. Obama to Nazi appeasers in the 1930's and Sen. McCain called Sen. Obama reckless for considering talking with Iran. Then a funny thing happened: the Bush administration opened talks with Iran. Next, the Republicans criticized Sen. Obama for calling for timetables for withdrawal in Iraq. Now, the Bush administration has agreed to a troop agreement that includes a "general time horizon" for withdrawal. There is also the issue of Sen. Obama saying he would allow attacks against al Qaeda in Pakistan if the Pakistani government is unwilling or unable to attack. Sen. McCain, and others have strongly criticized Sen. Obama for this stance. Now it is clear that the Bush administration is doing just that and that Gov. Palin supports it. Finally, everyone is now acknowledging the need for more troops in Afghanistan, something Sen. Obama has been pushing for some time. Not surprisingly, pieces have come out pondering whether Sen. Obama should copyright his foreign policy stances and stating that the two largely agree on anti-terror issues. My opinions of current copyright policies aside, the dissension amongst top Republicans was easily discernible and likely due to Sen. McCain's rocky history with the Republican party leadership generally and President Bush specifically.
Such was the environment in which Sen. McCain had to select his vice presidential running mate and his selection sought to directly address the unity factor. Sen. McCain was in good standing with small-government conservatives, reformed-minded conservatives, and foreign-policy hawks. Where he was lacking was with support from religious conservatives and enthusiasm throughout the party. The selection of Gov. Palin was meant to address those shortcomings and it largely has. Not only that, the campaign shifted from policies (where Republicans are weak this year according to polls) to personalities (where Republicans always run strong). McCain campaign manager Rick Davis belied this strategy, saying "This election is not about issues. This election is about a composite view of what people take away from these candidates." So now, rather than talking about the two wars, the troubled economy and housing market, education, and health care, we are talking about lipstick. Gone are "new politics" and "the maverick". We are left with a conventional Democratic campaign talking about policy and a conventional Republican campaign talking about character. I think we all know how this story ends (and recent polls confirm it).
The media have fully entered the fray (was there any doubt?). Democratic apologist (and if you were unfortunate enough to watch any of the MSNBC coverage of the Democratic convention, you know what I mean) Keith Olbermann wades into the fray defending Sen. Obama. While Mr. Olbermann's view is undeniably biased, some good points are made.
Last night Mr. Olbermann also had a "Special Comment" on the politicization of September 11th. While he goes a bit over the top at times and fails to mention Democratic abuses, many of the same points could be made about patriotism (or the nationalism and jingoism that passes for patriotism nowadays) in general.