Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain's surprising VP pick

Today, McCain did something that no one saw coming. He picked Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate. The collective reaction seems to be "Who?" With good reason. Not only is she from an obscure state, but she's only been governor for two years (and was mayor of some little town before that). She's younger than Obama, and has far less political experience (but Alaska is close to Russia, so she actually does have foreign policy experience; Fox News is just way beyond self-parody these days).

Steve Benen:

Stepping back, we have the man who would be the oldest president in
American history, who happens to have a record of health problems, picking a virtual unknown who's been a governor for less than two years. Amazing.

McCain communications chief Jill Hazelbaker told CBS News this morning that McCain is going to "make the choice from his heart." That seems even more bizarre -- McCain barely knows Palin, hasn't worked with her in any capacity, and hadn't even asked her to serve as a campaign surrogate at any point in the process. For all the talk about McCain valuing personal relationships above all else, McCain has practically picked a stranger, to himself and the rest of the nation.

This strikes me as a tremendously desperate move on McCain's part, which is unlikely to go over well. More soon.

John Cole:

I guess there will be folks among the legions at memeorandum who think this is a daring and bold and mavericky pick (mostly in the media, I would wager), but I just guess I am not one of them. It seems so transparently cynical, so deeply poll-driven and focus-grouped, and so manifestly just a bone to the wingnut pro-life base and the 8 PUMA holdouts, that I really can’t treat this pick seriously.

The Great Orange Satan:

The Sarah Quayle Palin pick is an abandonment of the "Obama is
not ready to lead" attack lines. Those are dead, and to be honest, while that
line didn't work for Hillary and it had limited traction for McCain, it still
had some traction. That attack line is gone.

Andrew Sullivan:

Compare McCain’s pick with Obama’s: a man with solid foreign policy experience, six terms in Washington and real relationships with leaders across the globe.

One pick is by a man of judgment; the other is by a man ofvanity.

She may be a fine person, but she’s my age, she has zero Washington experience, and no foreign policy expertise whatsoever.

McCain has just told us how seriously he takes the war we are in. Not seriously at all.

Even Mark Halperin, McCain-fluffer extraordinaire, thinks this is likely a terrible move:

John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate will either turn out to be a brilliant way for the Republican to scramble the race in his favor — or a disastrous pick that is cast as a desperate act.

On the face of it, McCain has failed the ultimate test that any presidential candidate must face in picking a running mate: selecting someone who is unambiguously qualified to be president.

I would say her relative youth and lack of experience undercuts very badly the McCain campaign's argument that Obama is too untested to be president. After all, if McCain is elected, Palin will be a heartbeat away from the Oval Office. If Obama isn't ready to be president, how the hell can he say with a straight face that Palin is?

McCain chose Palin for short term, blatantly cynical political reasons. He chose a woman so that he can poach some of the Hillary loyalists. So he can be a candidate of "change" too. So he can shore up his conservative credentials (Palin is virulently opposed to abortion, and advocates teaching creationism in schools). He did not pick her for her credentials or ability to be President.
She will get thrashed in the VP debate, but McCain will no doubt try to pull a Hillary and paint Biden as a bully, trying to play on feminist sympathies.

In short, this is a shockingly awful pick (not to mention bizarre) from an objective, non-partisan standpoint. She is not ready to be President, and no one knows anything about her. She also comes with a pre-packaged scandal, which the Dems would be smart to publicize. But in the current political context, it's a somewhat shrewd move. McCain knows his only hope is to keep the Democrats divided. What better way to do that than to choose a woman as his running mate?

UPDATE: I want to add Ezra Klein's reaction as well:

As the day wears on, I'm growing ever more convinced this was an insane pick. Palin isn't well vetted. McCain has only met her twice. She's not well briefed -- a month ago she didn't know McCain's position on Iraq. And she doesn't come prepared for the scrutiny. Palin isn't in a political position that exposes her to the full range of issues. She's not been running for president for two years, working with sprawling policy teams and being exposed to every concern of every voter willing to write an e-mail or grab the mic at a townhall. She's not been in office long enough to dig in on many issues, and she's not been in the sort of office where she'd have been exposed to many of them naturally.

And Jack Cafferty's been kicking ass today on CNN:

"It's a joke," he said. "Alaska has as many people as Austin, Texas. What does she know about inner city poverty? The war on drugs? The Middle East? You want to put her against Putin?"


Mé said...

Palin is not a women's candidate; she is a geo-political candidate designed to help McCain pick up support from John Wayne Americans. Alaska has a small population. However, voters in states like Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota will be able to identify with her. Voters in the rural parts of bigger states will be able to identify with her. Religious voters will be able to identify with her. Palin is a great geo-political candidate.

Desmond said...

McCain is going to win most of those small rural states anyway. He doesn't need Palin to win Idaho or North Dakota.

I think the attraction of winning over some Hillary die hards is much more appealing to Republicans than shoring up their base, and I think there's little doubt that that was McCain's main motivation here.

The problem for them is that it won't work. The PUMA crowd didn't want Obama to choose a female VP other than Hillary. If he had chosen, say, Sebelius, they would have been pissed that she had been elevated over Hillary who had more experience and had worked harder. The same will be true for McCain and Palin, even moreso because Palin is a staunch pro-lifer.

This could well end up being a campaign killer, especially once the honeymoon is over and she starts being asked hard questions on foreign policy and the economy. Christmas in September for the Democrats.