The Campaign As Predictor Of Presidential Performance

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Our old boss and colleague Peter Beinart has a great column in today's Washington Post about how presidential campaigns reliably predict a candidate's governing style. By that metric, he says, Obama has a huge advantage over Clinton and McCain:

Of the three candidates still in the 2008 race, Obama has run the best campaign by far. McCain's was a top-heavy, slow-moving, money-hemorrhaging Hindenburg that eventually exploded, leaving the Arizona senator to resurrect his bankrupt candidacy through sheer force of will. Clinton's campaign has been marked by vicious infighting and organizational weakness, as manifested by her terrible performance in caucus states.

Obama's, by contrast, has been an organizational wonder, the political equivalent of crossing a Lamborghini with a Hummer. From the beginning, the Obama campaign has run circles around its foes on the Internet, using MySpace, Facebook and other Web tools to develop a virtual army of more than 1 million donors. The result has been fundraising numbers that have left opponents slack-jawed (last month Obama raised $40 million, compared with Clinton's $20 million). 

Much has obviously been written--not least in our pages--about the mechanical brilliance of the Obama campaign and the early failures of the McCain campaign. But reading Peter's quickie characterizations in this context really sent shivers down my spine. Whatever you think about McCain's national security experience (and I think there's less there than meets the eye), I think a McCain White House would be an administrative disaster for the reasons Peter mentions.

P.S. For what it's worth, Peter gets into some of the same differences between the Obama and Dean campaigns that I go into in this just-posted piece for the Post web site. (My piece is a response to this one on Howard Dean's legacy from Sunday's Outlook section.) Peter and I both argue that the Obama campaign, as he puts it, "has married Web energy with professional control. It has used the Web masterfully but, unlike Dean in 2004, sees it as a tool, not a philosophy of life."

--Noam Scheiber

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