Current affairs and politics geeks in the UK will remember the question that was on all their lips on the 2nd of May 1997. “Were you still up for Portillo?”. I am beginning to wonder if the same sort of thing may happen on 6th November 2008 in the USA. For those too young, too foreign (in a nice way- I don’t expect you to follow every nuance of British politics), or just too disinterested at the time, allow me explain. The Conservative (aka ‘Tory’) Government of the mid/late 90′s was deeply unpopular, and deeply divided with the Europhobes threatening rebellion, and Tony Blair’s successful rebranding the Labour Party into ‘New Labour’, basically standing, in an ideological sense, as close as they could to the Tories to pick up their voters promised a landslide. What no one forsaw was the complete massacre of Tory Top Brass that happened.
Through out the night (Counting starts shortly after the polls shut at 10pm, with the first constituencies declaring at about 11pm) more and more Tory ‘heavyweights’ lost their seats. Political parties in the UK tend to try and get their most important MPs to stand in ‘safe seats’, ones they would never lose. But in ’97 deep unpopularity morphed into tactical voting, with voters for a party that would normally finish distant third throwing their votes behind the best placed non-Tory.
Then at 4am (and I stayed up to watch it) came the shock news. Micheal Portillo, a man touted as a future Tory Leader, had lost his ‘safe’ Enfield seat to the unknown Stephen Twigg (Labour). Portillo had been expected to be a leading player, possibly even a leader, in the wake of the defeat every one predicted. Could this happen to the Republicans, facing not only defeat for President, but both Congress and Senate.
The shock of the Labour Landslide stripped the Tories so far back that they only had a small core of MPs to form around, and some questioned whether given their unpopularity, and Blair’s assumption of many of their values, whether the Tories were a spent force. But the question that was on the lips of everyone who had stayed up for the results was “Were you still up for Portillo?” (Indeed shortly after an account with each chapter about an hour – 2am to 3am- was published with just that title, and Portillo listening to Twigg’s acceptance speach as the cover). “Being up for Portillo” was the event that ‘put you there’, that said you witnessed the Meltdown.
Now in the US I feel (from this side of the Atlantic) we are seeing the Meltdown of the current Republican Party. A deeply unpopular outgoing President, who has a deeply unpopular war on his hands, combined with the crash on Wall Street, has, as his Republican heir, a man who is unpopular with his own Party base! To try and counter this he has as his Running Mate an ultra-conservative woman, who has been wrong footed by, what in Britain at least, would be the simpliest of questions. Asking a candidate for public office what newspapers she reads isn’t ‘gotcha’ journalism, neither is asking about the Federal Bailout. And some Republicans are talking of a Palin campaign- as if they want a President McCain to die early, putting VP Palin into the Oval Office (and at least one blog has asked Americans to pray for this).
Then over the weekend Colin Powell, formerly the US most senior General, and Bush’s Secretary of State, comes out for Obama, though he still regards himself a Republican. The vitriol poured on him by the Right, has been shocking. Comment after comment on Ultra-Right ‘FreeRepublic’ accuse him of racism- saying Powell is only supporting Obama because he is black.
Even after we get used to the “If you don’t support Bush, you are unAmerican” sentiments expressed by many of their leading media ‘personalities’ the nastiness of McCain supporters is surprising. Rep. Michelle Bachman, AN ELECTED CONGRESSMAN (Congresswoman if you must) actually called for investigations into ‘unAmerican’ senators. Err, Representative, you should know McCarthy is a bit of a laughing stock, or would be if it was not for the harm he did so many Americans. The outcome of her comments has been a flooding of money to her Democrat rival for the election campaign.
It seems the more the Republicans kick, the more they become mired in failure, and can do nothing but shout “its all the fault of the liberal media”.
There is no third party in the US that would engender tactical voting, but there are the ‘undecideds’. And there are a number of states which usually vote Republican who seem to be edging Democrat- some should be McCain ‘gimme’s but he is concentrating time and money in them, withdrawing from what have been close states in the past.
I wonder if on the 5th of November Americans will be asking “were you still up for Montana?” (Currently McCain +5%)