Saturday, August 30, 2008

What the choice of Sarah Palin tells us about the McCain campaign

Jim Vandehei and John F. Harris of Politico offer six things the choice of Sarah Palin tells us about the McCain campaign for President:
  1. He’s desperate. Politicians, even “mavericks” like McCain, play it safe when they think they are winning — or see an easy path to winning. They roll the dice only when they know that the risks of conventionality are greater than the risks of boldness.
  2. He’s willing to gamble — bigtime This is not the pick of a self-confident candidate. It is the political equivalent of a trick play or, as some Democrats called it, a Hail Mary pass in football. McCain has a history of taking dares. Palin represents his biggest one yet.
  3. He’s worried about the political implications of his age. Like a driver overcorrecting out of a swerve, he chooses someone who is two years younger than the youthful Obama, and 28 years younger than he is. (He turned 72 Friday.)
  4. He’s not worried about the actuarial implications of his age. If he was really concerned about an inexperienced person sitting in the Oval Office we would be writing about vice presidential nominee Mitt Romney or Tom Ridge or Condoleezza Rice. There is no plausible way that McCain could say that he picked Palin ... because she was ready to be president on Day One.

    Nor can McCain argue that he was looking for someone he could trust as a close adviser. Most people know the staff at the local Starbucks better than McCain knows Palin.
  5. He’s worried about his conservative base. If he had room to maneuver, there were lots of people McCain could have selected who would have represented a break from Washington politics as usual. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman comes to mind (and it certainly came to McCain’s throughout the process). He had no such room.
  6. At the end of the day, McCain is still McCain. Spontaneity, with a touch of impulsiveness, is one of the traits that attract some of McCain’s admirers. Whether it’s a good calling card for a potential president will depend on the reaction in coming days to what looks for the moment like the most daring vice presidential selection in generations.
At the end of the day it seems to me that the things that will carry forward are that McCain was desperate and rolled the dice big time to get the social conservatives to support him. But to do that, he had to step all over one of his major campaign messages - that he offered experience in the White House that Obama can't match. He also raised the stakes a lot of voters need to consider when they think about the possibility of him dying or becoming disabled in office. For a candidate trying to win by raising voter's views of the uncertainty of his opponents' image the Palin choice increases the uncertainty and fear associated with his own image to a much higher level.

Naming Sarah Palin has his vice Presidential pick on Friday DID step all over the Friday media reaction to Obama's great Thursday night acceptance speech. But it is such an obvious sign of McCain's desperation as he fights a losing campaign that the desperation is the flavor that will last with the voters until election day, not the one day win in the media war. The choice of Palin is also such a clear surrender to the social conservative moralists of the Republican Party that Independents who might have considered McCain as "moderate" are going to look at him again a lot more carefully before voting for him.

In short, McCain did shake up the media view of the race for President for a few days, but when it settles down again he is going to find that he is in a relatively worse position than he was before choosing Palin as his nominee for Veep.

Consider what Kevin Drum has to say about the state of the McCain campaign.
So it turns out that not only does John McCain's running mate not have even the slightest background in foreign policy, but that she can't even talk about it coherently. McCain's handlers really have their work cut out for them.

And here, Matt Yglesias confirms that McCain had apparently met Palin exactly twice before today: once a few months ago when she came to Washington to talk about oil drilling and once more for five minutes via phone last Sunday. [UPDATE: Nope, three times! He also met with her briefly on Thursday morning before offering her the VP slot at 11 am.]

This is all part of what I was talking about the other day when I noted that McCain is running such a palpably unserious campaign. Steve Schmidt seems solely interested in winning the daily news cycle; his staff spends its time gleefully churning out juvenile attack videos; McCain himself has retreated into robotic incantations of simpleminded talking points; and now he's chosen a manifestly unqualified VP that he knows nothing about. I've honestly never seen anything like it.
So it appears to the experts that McCain is running a campaign out of his hip pocket, perhaps because the Republican brand is so lousy this year that no standard campaign has a chance of winning the Presidency and perhaps also because that's just McCain's style of operating.

It just might work to win the election (not that I'd bet on it), but if it does, it certainly provides an advance warning of the kind of White House McCain will preside over - chaotic, conservative as Bush's first term and highly disorganized.

From Jonthon Chait we get a bit more insight into Sarah Palin.

Eve notes Christopher Hayes's catch that Sarah Palin supported Pat Buchanan in 1999. Neither of them really dwells on the significance of this, so I wanted to back up for those who don't remember the circumstances of the time. This isn't like supporting Buchanan in the GOP primary. When Palin was supporting him, Buchanan was running as a third (actually, fourth) party insurgent, appealing to conservatives who thought George W. Bush was too moderate. This suggests that she's not just a run-of-the-mill movement conservative but a hard-core right-winger.
This would confirm what Gregg Erickson said yesterday in the interview that I posted yesterday: "You wrote: "If you took a poll of reporters and legislators I expect her approval rating would be down in the teens or twenties." What do they know about her that the general population does not?

Gregg Erickson: One example: The Republican chair of the Alaska State House Finance budget subcommittee on Heath and Medicaid says he can't find anyone in Palin's executive office who cares about helping bring that budget under control. He is furious with her about that."

Essentially she is a hard core conservative who has no interest in how government really works, but is always ready with a simplistic slogan to say how she thinks it SHOULD work. Government by sound-byte. Worked well in Katrina/Rita and in Iraq, didn't it?

That's, of course, the George Bush model of government and is clearly the model that John McCain prefers.

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