John McCain pulled a joker out of the deck yesterday when he announced
Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, and I think it’s
going to be fascinating to see how it plays.
At first glance it seems like an obvious attempt to pull in the
Hillary Clinton voters who may still be upset she’s not the Democratic
nominee. While that was surely part of the calculus, there is more.
Palin is philosophically to the right of McCain, and can shore up his
base in a way that Joe Lieberman or Mitt Romney could not. Whether
that’s a plus or not in the long run is unclear.
Another unanswered question is gender versus ideology, how many women
will vote for her because she’s a woman and a mother even if
(especially among Clinton supporters) she’s much more conservative
than they are?
Did McCain give up a core strategy in painting Obama as inexperienced
by picking a running mate even greener than he is, or will Palin’s
youth and enthusiasm make up for it?
Is she too enthusiastic? Onstage in Dayton Palin seemed to overshadow
McCain, hardly acknowledging him after her speech. It seemed to me
during her address that McCain might be thinking “If I could put the
pin back in this hand grenade now I would”. She may be so caught up in
her meteoric rise (albeit in Alaska) that she doesn’t know enough to
know just how much she doesn’t know.
She is clearly bright, attractive and smart. But is a woman who’s joys
in life are “hunting, fishing and snowmobiling” ready for life on the
national and international stage? She will be coached, and (if
possible) kept on point by McCain’s people during her public
appearances between now and November, but what might she say in
interviews (and what has she already said in older interviews that may
yet come to light)?
We will learn a lot in her debates with Joe Biden. Biden is clearly
more qualified in foreign affairs, legislative and judicial matters,
but he must be careful not to be too aggressive or condescending. It’s
a double edged sword, pull back too much and (given low expectations)
she gains credibility (as George Bush did against Al Gore). Go for the
throat (as Biden likes to do), and voters become sympathetic to her.
Only time will tell if Sarah Palin will turn out to be brilliant
choice by John McCain, or Dan Quale in a dress.
My hunch is we’ll know the answer well before November.