Edwards' (Seriously Flawed) Electability Argument
by 2008 Central, Wed Jan 23, 2008 at 01:54:22 PM EST
[Republished from 2008Central.net]
The Edwards campaign latest justification for remaining in the race is that John Edwards is the ONLY electable Democratic candidate (as opposed to a similar but very different argument that Edwards is more electable than the other candidates). The campaign started making this argument after Iowa and has expanded on it ever since. Recently, Edwards has been arguing that he's the candidate that can take on John McCain, saying:
"I think it's important for us to have somebody run against McCain who can beat him..And national polls show that I'm the one who beats John McCain in the general election."
Rural Adviser to John Edwards, Mudcat Saunders echoed the campaign's assertion-fest with a post on Huffington Post. Saunders states, but doesn't really substantiate this contention:
It should be clear to anybody with over a 50 IQ that my boy John Edwards, with his combination of red state electoral experience and toughness, is the only candidate who can beat John McCain. Whether you believe polls or not, polls from CNN to Rasmussen say just that.
And it should be equally as clear to anybody with over a 25 IQ that Obama and Clinton are going to render each other totally unelectable against any Republican, especially John McCain, by the time we get to the convention.
All the Republicans have to be loving this. Because the Democrat they don't want to face, John Edwards, is getting sandwiched between the coverage of this murderous cat fight between two so-called "historical" candidates who, when all is said and done, will be just that. HISTORY.
To begin, it's just flat out silly to predicate an argument for electability solely on poll numbers. Polls, as recently demonstrated, are not definitive. Moreover, polls 10-11 months ahead of an election are even more insignificant. Finally, the numbers for Obama v. McCain and Hillary Clinton v. McCain are not so unbelievably one sided as to suggest that it would be impossible for either Clinton or Obama to beat McCain should he be the Republican nominee.
Additionally, there's inherent flaw within Edwards' argument. He contends that based upon the current polls, only he can beat McCain. This, of course, requires the assumption that the numbers are inflexible, relatively static and thus unlikely to change come November. That said, if polls are legitimate indicators of support (as the campaign seems to suggest), then why should trends in the Democratic primary be any different? In other words, Edwards is arguing that you should vote for him, despite his very low poll numbers in the Democratic primary, because some polls show Hillary and Obama losing in a match up against McCain. Let me be clear, I'm not suggesting that the numbers aren't flexible, I'm just demonstrating how silly the logic of Edwards' argument is when analyzed.
The Edwards campaign also criticizes both Obama and Clinton for attacking each other and suggests that its the battled between Obama and Clinton that is undermining the Democratic Party's chance for victory in '08. I'm unclear as to why Edwards has the authority to criticize either candidate for negative attacks, when his campaign has levied some pretty scathing attacks when they believed it would suit them, such as Elizabeth Edwards questioning Hillary Clinton's record on women's issues or Edwards suggestion that his rivals are corporate Democrats (just a few the past); and more recently, with Edwards adding to the Obama-Rezko narrative by recounting a private discussion with Hillary on the subject (isn't this a very similar tactic that Joe Trippi attacked Mark Penn for?). It's worth noting that I'm not necessarily criticizing Edwards for the aforementioned criticisms of his opponents. What I am criticizing, as I have in the past, is Edwards doing one thing and then later taking the high ground on the same issue. You simply cannot argue that your opponents attacks on each other are bad for the party, when you participated in tough attacks yourself. That's really all I'm saying.
Moving on to the core of Edwards' electability, I offer the following considerations...
1) Edwards opted into public funding: Edwards' decision to use public funds will limit his ability to spend money towards the general election. I recognize that there are discrepancies regarding what the specific limitations will be; however, this means that the question is really over the degree of how limited he is. Further, his campaign's argument to rely on 527s to make up the difference, is just not a good idea. [JW discussed this issue prior to the Iowa Caucuses, and although a few of the details have since changed, the general gist of that post remains legitimate]
2) A dormant inconsistency that could bite Edwards during the general election: In addition to polls, Edwards has argued that he's most electable against McCain because of his position on campaign finance reform, arguing:
"This is a guy [John McCain] who's made central to his political life campaign finance reform. It seems to me we ought to be putting somebody up against him who's never taken money from special interest PACs or Washington lobbyists. Between the three of us, that's me."
However, how's it going to play in the general election, if McCain were to challenge Edwards on the Edwards' campaign position that if the Republican nominee didn't opt into the public finance system for the general election, then the Edwards campaign would also not opt into the public finance system come the general election. [And no, this does not contradict the first consideration, because there are two phases - the primary phase, which lasts up to the convention and the general election phase which begins after the conventions].
3) And if the nominee isn't McCain: Then what? Could Edwards' fiery rhetoric turn off potential donors, thus leaving him cash strapped? Meh, I'm not sure there's much to that potential issue, but the question is worth raising nonetheless. Further, with the economy likely to be a key issue, could Edwards' image as a class warfare guy scare a majority of the electorate away from him? (I'm not necessarily saying Edwards is arguing class warfare, but that's an image that he has and certainly something a GOP opponent will capitalize on)
4) And what about Edwards' evolution on several issues: Like it or not, the Republicans will rail on Edwards for several inconsistencies in his record. Just look at the following remark from Sen. Feingold, who has not endorsed a candidate yet, and imagine how the Republicans will tackle the same topic:
"I did notice that as the primaries heated up, all of a sudden, all the presidential candidates -- none of whom voted with me on the timeframe to withdraw from Iraq -- all voted with me and when we did the Patriot Act stuff.
The one that is the most problematic is (John) Edwards, who voted for the Patriot Act, campaigns against it. Voted for No Child Left Behind, campaigns against it. Voted for the China trade deal, campaigns against it. Voted for the Iraq war ... He uses my voting record exactly as his platform, even though he had the opposite voting record.
When you had the opportunity to vote a certain way in the Senate and you didn't, and obviously there are times when you make a mistake, the notion that you sort of vote one way when you're playing the game in Washington and another way when you're running for president, there's some of that going on."
5) The Bloomberg Factor: If Democrats nominate Edwards, would it create half of the required scenario for Mike Bloomberg, who is reported to be prepared to spend $1 billion on the campaign, to enter the race? Earlier last year, a former Bloomberg adviser indicated that a Bloomberg candidacy would be likely if both parties nominated "extreme" candidates (adviser's word choice, not mine); the adviser went on to mention Edwards and Romney as examples (its worth mentioning that this consideration may or may not apply to Hillary Clinton, but this a post about Edwards, so I will table that discussion for now). I'm not sure what weight voters should give to the Bloomberg factor, but since it's a growing possibly and relates more to Edwards than it does to Hillary and certainly to Obama, it's worth mentioning.
To be clear: I am not trying to argue that John Edwards is unelectable. I am simply trying to point out that if a candidate starts to argue electability, then instead of only offering poll numbers and an amorphous campaign finance reform argument as support for the contention, he/she should actually develop the argument. Look, Edwards lost the primary in 2004 to John Kerry...was underwhelming in the 2004 campaign (this is more likely the fault of Kerry and less of Edwards, although he did fail to deliver his home state of North Carolina)... and despite intense focus on Iowa, he failed to win that critical state. Thus, if he is going to present a plausible electability argument, he's going to need to offer a lot more than he is currently offering. Basically, I'm saying, "Where's the beef?" Edwards needs to offer some real substance to the electability claim...some real reasons.
And countering this critique by blaming the media is not very compelling. Granted, they aren't doing the best job now, but they certainly haven't shut Edwards out and leading up to Iowa, Edwards got plenty of attention. Indeed, Edwards has some legitimate gripes with the press coverage (but not anywhere near what his campaign has been suggesting). The media isn't going to suddenly change between the primaries and the general election. If he can't manage them now, why should voters believe he will suddenly be able to better manage them in the general election? If Edwards loses the general election, what good will complaining about the media coverage do for the Democratic party