Posted by Brad @ 3:58 pm on August 29th 2008

The Case for Palin, Redux

The reaction on the Palin pick seems to be decidedly mixed. Already, people are talking “Harriet Meirs!” and “Dan Quayle!” I think McCain made a mistake picking her second; she was a choice made to be rolled out prior to the conventions to get some biography and narrative going, and to give her a cycle or two that the McCain people could devote themselves to. Nevertheless, while the timing complicates things, I still hold that she’s a high-risk high-reward pick, and by choosing her, McCain has shown an uncharacteristic amount of savvy.

Let me re-up my premises: McCain isn’t going to win by running a 2002 campaign. That’ll get him close, but close isn’t going to do it for John McCain. All terror-and-tough-talk all the time is a losing strategy…necessary, but not sufficient. What McCain needs is to broaden his appeal, and to both reinforce the notion that he is not your George Bush’s Republican, and that there is more to him than just fire-breathing on Iraq, Iran, and Georgia. Palin does exactly that for him, and while she is absolutely a compensation pick—a woman, an outsider, a youthful agent of change, a NextGen Republican—she also, in some savvy and not immediately apparent ways, is a double down pick as well. What’s more, one of the things being missed right now is she passes muster with every segment of the GOP base—social cons, Sam Club Republicans, even small government federalists—without being quite of any one of those portions of the base (which might scare the other segments away or close off avenues to broadening the appeal). That was the biggest challenge McCain had to face, and he stuck the landing here.

But first, the obvious strengths. Yes, she is a woman, and that is not unimportant. McCain has been making a clear play for Clinton voters lately, and Clinton herself didn’t do much to pour water on that fire, and now McCain has chosen a self-described “hockey mom” as her VP. There was not a single woman on the GOP bench that can both play to that demographic appeal and expand it. She is a woman, but not a token woman. She is a social conservative suburban mom, and just as importantly, she is a mother of a soldier shipping off to Iraq. Both McCain and Biden have sons in Iraq as well, but there is something unique about being the mother of a solider that allows her, when she says “McCain is who I trust as commander in chief” to have an immediate resonance. She becomes, in that sense, the representative mother-of-a-solider, and pairing that with McCain is a powerful, powerful matchup. It both reinforces McCain’s message that Obama is not a serious commander in chief pick, and it moves that argument along, refreshes it, expands it. She does not have foreign policy experience, but in a queer way, she reinforces his. She remakes the Iraq War issue into a kitchen table issue, and that’s a recast that is very, very inspired.

Second of all, she is the single credible outsider on either ticket. Alaska is far, far away, and though she can certainly claim executive experience, it makes the charge that McCain is just an uneventful Bob Dole pick fall a little flat. She is a small Western state reformer, Mrs. Smith come to Washington, and you’re going to get a lot of “Well I don’t know how you do it in D.C., but in Alaska, we don’t rely on government, we rely on our neighbors” sort of talk from her (if they’re smart).

She is a perfect foil for Biden. I said, of the Biden pick, that one trap McCain wants to NOT fall into is try to out-Biden Biden. This is the opposite of that. What’s more, Biden suddenly finds himself requiring of one thing Biden isn’t known to have a lot of — tact and grace and a soft touch. He has to almost bend over backwards, at least in the VP debate, to NOT bully his opponent, and if he hangs her, he has to give her the rope with which to do it herself. McCain just dodged one of the biggest bullets from his VP pick…avoiding picking somebody and have Biden eat their lunch in their own spotlight moment. This is a serious problem for the Biden debate team going forward—they’re going to have to find a way to solve that riddle.

Fourthly, she does not have foreign policy experience, but McCain, the message sent can be, doesn’t need foreign policy experience. Maybe that Obama kid needs to pick somebody based on thick resume, but I sure don’t. What I need is a governing choice, someone who can connect to the American people, someone who can help me temper my own gruffness and insider tendencies, someone who can help me feel your pain a little. You donít need a huge resume for the vice presidential pick, you need it in the commander in chief. Obama has it exactly backwards.

But what Palin does have is domestic executive experience. Energy policy turns out to have been a big winner for McCain—bam, Palin doubles down on that. He’s always been big on ethics reform and wasteful government spending, and he’s lost that message, mostly, this campaign. Bam, Palin doubles down on that. She doesn’t just double down there, she brings extra credibility. McCain has cleaned up things in D.C., Palin has done it on a state level. We’re the reformers here, both from the inside and out.

Also, what I love most about it, is Palin immediately passes the social conservative sniff test without, herself, being tied to the social conservative movement. I can’t overstate that, because by all accounts McCain needed to pick a social con, but he hates the social conservative wing of the party. Palin passes muster there perfectly. You’ll hear about her support of creationism, her anti-abortion crusades, the fact that she had a genetic test for her last pregnancy but refused to give up her Down Syndrome kid, all of that, and liberal swill sneer, and social conservatives will perk up. But you’ll also hear about her relative friendliness to gays, her decidedly mature stance on the War on Drugs, her temperance on out-and-out religious bellicosity. She’s a Christian in much the sense that Obama is, that being, relatively mainstream. Social conservatives will find her someone they can get behind, and, outside of Science Blogs, most mainstream Americans won’t find her a social conservative to bristle against.

She’s a kitchen table Republican on economic matters. Small town beauty queen, husband is a steelworker and commercial fisherman, both are union members, working stiffs. The most effective part of the Obama/Biden speeches at the DNC was their reconnecting to middle America economic values and insecurity, and one of the big hits McCain has taken is his out-of-touchness and, let’s be fair, tin ear to that kind of thing. This was not something that Mitt Romney or Carly Fiorina was going to be able to address or connect on. Palin can. If Obama/Biden want to go there (and they do), at last, the McCain ticket has an answer.

Finally, she does all this with an individualistic/reformer bent that should please libertarians. She speaks that language, is strong strong strong on property rights, gun rights, federalism, etc. If you’re worried that McCain is another big government neocon, Palin is a compelling counterpoint.

This choice courts a LOT of risks. For one, given that she’s the unknown in this race, she can’t afford any of McCain’s “senior” moments or Biden’s foot-in-mouth flubs. She has to be prepped and smooth, lest those Quayle/Miers charges take hold (although, oppo guys, you might want to be careful that you don’t go too hard on that angle, lest you court feminist backlash). And she’s going to have to be damn impressive on red meat if they want to side-step the charges of inexperience. She needs to cut an impressive figure, and at the same time recast that argument as her being the outsider in this race.

But on the whole, she can connect with voters along a wide, wide array of battleground that thus far, McCain has proven incapable of making inroads with. She is indeed risky, but McCain is, after all, the “maverick”. What would Pawlenty or Romney have said? She is the high-risk high-reward choice, and McCain was very, very smart to acknowledge that he needs to take those risks, because getting to within striking distance of Obama wasn’t going to cut it, nor was running an entirely negative campaign. This is, to my mind, the most potentially inspired decision the McCain team have made this entire election.

This is a choice conservatives interested in winning this election can get behind.


  1. Well said.

    Comment by James — 8/29/2008 @ 4:23 pm

  2. I don’t think that he made a mistake announcing his pick second; going first would have allowed the Democratic Party to use their biggest stage of the year, when a lot of people do (for some bizarre reason) watch them, to attack her (which they are now going to have to spend money to do). It also wrong-foots them the day after Obama’s big speech and makes them reactive.

    All told, it works pretty well to go second, I think.

    However, the big deal is simply going to be whether she implodes or not. If she doesn’t, I can see her being a clear net asset (although still not enough, of course; I still think Obama’s going to run away with it, but at least McCain’s going to go down without Romney around his neck).

    Comment by Adam — 8/29/2008 @ 5:35 pm

  3. Pretty persuasive, Brad.

    Comment by Rojas — 8/29/2008 @ 7:11 pm

  4. Although it is worth mentioning that this is a suicidal choice where the Steller Sea Lion demographic is concerned.

    Comment by Rojas — 8/29/2008 @ 7:16 pm

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