McCain and Iraq

Patrick Ruffini and, subsequently, Ross Douthat are in agreement; McCain should run on the surge. Put simply, he should run on the last 2 years in Iraq, and beat home how “right” he was on the issue. Now that all sounds good, but there’s 2 major problems with it electorally. First of all, it’s impossible to limit the focus simply to the last 2 years. Any discussion of Iraq will inevitably wander back to one fact; John McCain is among the most vociferous supporters of the Iraq war and would gladly undertake it again, while Barack Obama was against it all along. Whatever your opinion on that, the debate will always make it’s way there. Secondly, there’s no evidence that McCain can gain ground here. There’s no compelling case to be made that the surge, and only the surge, has had magical healing powers. In fact, political functionality is at least as bad now as it was at the outset, and if you’re paying attention, we’re staring down the barrel of the possibility that the government, with the backing of the US, will bar their Shiite rivals from the ballot entirely, or at least restrict their ability to campaign (who says the troops died for nothing?).

Irregardless, the public is, at best, mixed on the matter. 59% of Americans, and a full 67% of women, want the troops home within a year, even though 49% of Americans say it as at least “somewhat likely” that we would win the war in Iraq with President McCain. And while 40% say the surge is “making things better,” 57% still regard the war as a mistake in the first place. When you look at the crosstabs of who thinks the surge made things better, you get overwhelming support mostly from, shock of shocks, Republicans/conservatives, and more measured support from independents/moderates. So there’s really no reason to believe that, even in the unlikely event McCain could keep the discussion away from the fact that 57% of Americans think Obama was right, he could substantially gain traction in the electorate based solely on the surge.