US presidential election A big lump of splitters

As both candidates in the current US presidential election remind their supporters, the race is not over until the votes are cast and counted. Yet the likelihood of Mr McCain winning the presidency has been diminshing with every day and every hour that passes. A defeat – together with some losses in Congress (and especially in the Senate) – will lead to introspection among the Republicans: reasons for the losses will be discussed in minute details and blame apportioned.

A defeated and dispirited party often descends into a big lump of splitters: different factions of the party will try to absolve them of the defeat and blame others within the party. Analysis will focus on why they lost, not why their opponents won. My views are naturally coloured with what has happened in the UK, especially the defeat and disintegration of the Conservatives after 1997, and it’s appropriate to state that this pop analysis may not apply to the US political landscape.

Mr McCain is a maverick, and so is Ms Palin. They appeal to different constituencies: Mr McCain more towards the middle ground and Ms Palin the base. The (impending) defeat would result because either Ms Palin scared the middle or Mr McCain alienated the base. Both analyses probably have elements of truth, but when a party becomes a bunch of splitters, then deciding whom to blame and which tactic was at a fault becomes very important. Party becomes narcissistc and searches for purity. It splits and excludes. Such self-cleansing often leads to self-destruction.

The next Republican leadership will have a tough time. Mr Obama, the great unifier, has occupied the middle ground with his stress on inclusion, by lumping rather than splitting. It will be difficult for the new Republican leadership to regain the trust of conservative-leaning folk, if a moderate were elected. If the Republicans opt for a very conservative line, then that will alienate the middle further.

And to make matters worse for the Republicans, there is a real possibility of their irrelevance, especially if the Democrats win 60+ seats in the Senate. No one would care if the Republican party descends into chaos and combustion.

If Mr Obama is elected and were to enjoy a reasonable first two years of his presidency and sustain the momentum into the mid-term elections, Republicans may not have a chance in 2016, let alone 2012. If the economy still is going down the toilet in a few years’ time, then the Republicans may have a chance, after all, ‘it’s the economy, stupid’.

Predictions are notoriously difficult to make and often end up being wrong. You never know, we may be waking up to Mr McCain elected the next US president on 5 November. We shall see.