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What if John McCain had won the 2008 election?
It's tempting to imagine "what could have been." But the maverick would have faced many of the same challenges Obama has struggled with.
Just imagine...
Just imagine... Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
W

hat if the Obama administration never existed? What would America be like today?

We'll never know, of course. But for Republicans who say Obama has been a disaster for America, who swear that things would be a whole lot better if only John McCain and Sarah Palin were elected in 2008, well, let's take a closer look at that claim.

First, it's important to note this: McCain is actually closer to Obama on a lot of issues than he is with what he calls Republican "wacko birds" like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, the current darlings of the GOP. Even so, if McCain has been president, things would have been significantly different.

First off, there would be no ObamaCare. There wouldn't have been a wave election in 2010 that swept the GOP into power in the House. And the Tea Party would still be something little old ladies did every afternoon at 4.

The GOP likely would have lost ground in the 2010 midterms. Since World War II, there have been a dozen presidents. On average, when they left office, their party had lost:

  • 30 House seats
  • 6 Senate seats
  • 8 gubernatorial positions
  • Control of six state legislatures
  • 360 state legislative seats

The political gridlock that has paralyzed Washington during the Obama years would still exist under a President McCain. It might even be worse. With President McCain on one end of Pennsylvania Avenue and Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi on the other (even if Republicans had ridden the wave of a McCain victory to a smattering of extra House and Senate wins in 2008, Democrats would have surely still retained both majorities), it's not exactly a recipe for cooperation. McCain might well be complaining about "Democratic obstructionism" (like George W. Bush did) and how Reid and Pelosi were playing games. Just like Obama complains about Republicans now.

What would McCain have done to stop the economic collapse? What about Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Arab Spring? And what about the scandals ("phony," according to Democrats) that have dragged down Obama in the polls? A quick look:

Economy

With the economy in freefall in 2008, McCain issued a plan calling for, among other things, a cut in the corporate tax rate, allowing faster deductions of business equipment and technology to spur investment, and tax credits for research and development. Sounds great. But these are all things that Obama has been proposing for years. He has been continually stymied by Republican obstructionism. No difference there.

In 2009 McCain called for a stimulus bill "that would directly help people, create jobs, and provide a jolt to our economy." He also fought tooth and nail against Obama's 2009 stimulus, even though one-third of it was direct tax cuts and most of the rest direct aid to the states that helped keep cops, firefighters, and teachers on the job. Economists today acknowledge that the stimulus produced about 2.5 million jobs. It didn't keep unemployment below 8 percent as Obama promised, but the economy was a hell of a lot worse than anyone thought at the time.

The bottom line? President McCain would probably have pushed the same sort of stimulus and economic measures that President Obama has pushed — and struggled with similarly frustrating results.

One big difference: McCain opposed the auto bailouts of 2008 and 2009. Even if had been in the White House, would he have denied Detroit's automakers the funds that have helped the U.S. auto industry come roaring back?

Foreign policy

"Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran,” McCain sang during his campaign, to the tune of the Beach Boy's "Barbara Ann." It's that kind of bluster that might have landed us in yet another Middle East war by now — with an enemy three times bigger than Iraq. McCain supported Obama's Afghan surge, and opposes his withdrawal. He favored wading into Syria's civil war by unleashing U.S. air strikes.

You can bet there would have been more war under a President McCain than there has been under a President Obama. Is that what a war-weary American public would have wanted?

Scandal-rama

Since McCain was a big supporter of U.S intervention in Libya, you can bet we would have had a presence there on his watch, suggesting there may well still have been an attack last Sept. 11. Would President McCain have responded differently? Given that Joint Chiefs Chairman Dempsey and Robert Gates — who served both Obama and George W. Bush as Defense Secretary — said a rescue mission was unfeasible, it's unlikely McCain would have gotten different counsel.

What about NSA surveillance? Like Obama, McCain is a staunch defender of NSA surveillance — and legal oversight of it. No daylight between him and Obama on this one.

Fast & Furious. The death of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms agent Brian Terry — and Obama administration stonewalling — turned this into a scandal. But McCain has irritated fellow Republicans with criticism of gunshow loopholes that hurt — according to McCain — U.S. efforts to keep guns out of the hands of cartels and terrorists. Would he have opposed gunrunning — an ATF tactic dating back to 2006? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Much as many conservatives believe anyone would be better than President Obama, the Republican that the party nominated to compete against him in 2008 really wouldn't have been all that different. We still would have had scandals. The economy still would have floundered. The big differences: A war-weary American public would have been dragged into more wars, an auto industry in critical condition would have been left to die, ObamaCare would never have existed, and a grassroots conservative movement would have lacked the liberal foil needed to grow and thrive.

What do you think — is that a better America than the one you live in today?

Paul Brandus is an award-winning member of the White House press corps and the founder of WestWingReports.com.

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