Was McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin a brilliant political move, or a little thought through mistake? Palin’s impressive political skills, notable personal flaws, and inept campaign handlers make this a difficult analysis. With just over two weeks passed since the election, what have we learned?
Many pundits referred to the Palin pick as a hail mary pass by the McCain campaign. I am something of an aficiando on the football analogy, and this is incorrect. Rather than a hail mary, this was a hook and ladder play. Everyone knows when a hail mary pass is coming. The brilliance in the Palin pick was its unexpectedness.
Let’s remember that Obama was coming off his impressive acceptance speech in the Democratic Party Convention. All of the talk was about how Obama’s win was inevitable. The announcement of the Palin choice the next morning put a stop to all of that. Suddenly, everyone was talking about McCain’s pick of a virtually unknown woman for VP.
A virtually unknown woman who was governor of Alaska, had impressive charisma, and unquestionable conservative credentials. She could rally the Republican base, and might just pull some people from the middle.
Then they put her in a box.
If a campaign is going to do something as radical as this, it should have the commitment to stick with it. Instead, they hid her from the press and media. The conversation changed to one where McCain’s campaign was trying to hide her.
Was she simply that inept? If you believe the whisper campaign of McCain’s former staffers, you’d think so. I doubt reality is that simple.
No, she’s certainly not ready to be president. And given McCain’s age, that’s a legitimate concern. But then, I’m not sure anyone really is ready to be president of the United States.
And, unfortunately, at some of her rallies, it did seem she was trying to appeal to some of the uglier parts of the Republican Party. While she didn’t overtly say anything racist (that I heard), it seemed to swirl around her when she spoke.
All that said, there’s something fascinating about her. The charisma she showed at her acceptance speech at the Republican Convention really drew me in. I disagree with many of her positions on the issues, but the idea of a gun-toting, straight-talking, small-town woman from a western state has it’s appeal.
For some reason, she brings out a visceral, irrational hate in many people. Their actions remind us just how ugly parts of the Democratic Party can be. That’s a good reminder for us all to have, as we’ve had no shortage of such reminders from the Republican Party the last few years.
In some ways, she’s poised to become a major player in the Republican Party. They desperately need new blood. Someone like her (or at least like the woman she claimed to be) would be very welcome. Palin certainly has the ambition, but needs to lower her profile a bit so that people can forget just how partisan she was during the campaign, if she wants to run as anything other than a far right demagogue.
But she can’t afford to go away completely, or she may be forgotten. This is a real risk out there in Alaska. Even as the leader of our largest state, most of us had never heard of her prior to McCain’s announcement.
Some thought that she could perhaps replace Ted Stevens, Alaska’s federally convited senator. While this might have been perfect, that chance is gone with Stevens now having lost to Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich.
The options are limited for Palin, but don’t count her out yet. She didn’t get to where she was in a good-ole-boys network like Alaska without knowing how to route around blockers.
So, was the choice of Palin brilliant or idiotic?
As the winners write the history, most will view the Palin choice as a mistake. But, let’s remember that all of the fundamentals were against the Republicans this year. McCain was a horrible candidate and the economy went completely into the tank in the last few weeks, yet it was still relatively close.
Was Palin responsible for that? Certainly she brought many conservatives out to vote that would have sat on their hands otherwise. But I doubt she took many votes from the middle.
On the other hand, a “safe” choice for McCain would have likely lead to a larger loss.
The way the McCain campaign handled Palin was certainly inept, but it wasn’t a bad hand to play, given what McCain was up against.
Only time will reveal whether she’s a political force, or a flash in the pan. But, given her youth, time is one thing she has in abundance.