Friday, 31 October 2008

Was picking Palin a mistake?

I wrote before (in August) about the wisdom of selecting Sarah Palin as running mate on the Republican ticket. Among the six reasons I suggested she was a good pick for McCain were executive experience, her youthfulness, the fact that she was female and that she could energise the Republican (conservative) base with her views.

I suggested that with a "maverick" (moderate Republican) like McCain on the ticket the VP pick had to be someone that could appeal to conservatives to get the vote out. The fact that she was female was aimed at the pee-off Clinton supporters who were upset at her treatment by Obama and Democrats, while also attracting independents.

Two months later, like every Republican in America, I'm second-guessing that pick. While she has succeeded in energising the Republican base, potential cross-over Democrat voters that might have been won over by a woman on the ticket have been scared off by her conservative views.

At the time, I suggested that the choice of VP candidate for the Democrats would be made on the basis of someone who would win more states for them (and they went for what they needed - someone with clout in North East states) while the Republicans choice would be influenced by their need for someone to energise their base - which is what they went for.

However, might the Republicans have found someone who could have fulfilled that role while also winning more states - particularly in the North East? Someone, perhaps, like former Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge? He'd certainly have the clout in Pennsylvania to perhaps swing it for McCain - but his pro-choice views would do little to appease the base who are already unconvinced by

The decision to go with Palin has backfired in her inability to win battleground states for McCain, constant disagreements on policy issues with McCain himself and, well, Tina Fey's caricature of her hits quite close to home. Republican sources are starting to question the decision and ask whether other picks would have aided the campaign more.

I guess after the election there will be more of a discussion of the pick... when we know for sure whether it was a good or bad pick. I think if things had turned out differently to this point, and she'd done what was expected of her, then this discussion wouldn't be happening. But she's become the yardstick by which the Republican ticket is measured, and turned polls from what was a McCain lead to an Obama landslide. In that respect, and in so many others, Palin on the ticket has backfired for McCain.


PJ 31 October 2008 at 12:32  

I think the initial perception of Palin as a bold choice has undoubtedly deteriorated but it has also detracted from McCain's campaign. I have never bought into the idea that simply being a woman would win her votes, as a woman I find that a little insulting (and I'm sure her politics are not based upon playing the "girl card"). However, for me her achilles heel is that Joe (or Jill) the Plumber just don't connect with her or relate to her life in comparison to their own.

A really interesting current slant on the debate about Palin as VP choice is that people may well be discouraged from voting for an elderly candidate like McCain, who would be the oldest President ever elected, for fear that if he were to stand down for any reason they would be left with Palin as President. Have a look at this site if you haven't seen it already Clearly biased but perhaps a little too close for comfort...

Holyrood Patter 31 October 2008 at 13:17  

uou must be stuffed!
how many times have you eaten your words regarding the elction?

Malc 31 October 2008 at 14:03  


Yep, I've seen that. It is pretty funny/ scary...

On the other point (Palin being a woman) I'm not sure. There's always been a lot of criticism of the lack of women in politics - if there should be a balance then a female candidate should bring in a female vote. I understand Palin's politics are not the politics of liberals, but I'm not convinced that politics should transcend the symbolism.

Actually let me rephrase that. I don't want to say "women should shut up about low levels of representation in politics because when there is a woman standing they don't vote for her." But I think there is an argument to be made that you can't have your cake and eat it. And I know you didn't quite make that point, but maybe I think its an issue that needs explored.

I'm not the kind of person that would vote for someone purely because of their gender/ race or even their political party. They have to convince me that they deserve my vote. I understand that Palin hasn't done that for women.

Malc 31 October 2008 at 14:05  


Welcome to grown up politics. I don't think "mature" comments like yours add to the debate in any sense, but let me answer anyway.

I'm not eating the words. At the time I thought it was a good, bold pick. In different circumstances (ie, with a less pro-Obama, anti-religion MSM) I think it would have been a stellar choice. Given the way the election has gone, all I'm asking is whether someone from the industrial north-east might have been a better pick.

Sam 31 October 2008 at 19:37  

The problem is not Palin per se but the campaign McCain has run and the way he has gone about it.

He could have run a centrist campaign aimed at swing/undecided voters, moderate Republicans, moderate Democrats, middle classes, white working classes and people afraid/unwilling to vote a black man into power. In other words 75% of Americans.

He would have emphasised his huge Senate experience, his liberal voting record, his principled voting record, his stands against special interests and lobbyists, his non-partisan work and broad appeal. He would have been the ultimate Washington insider and at the same time the guy willing to stand up and speak truth to power.

Its the reason I used to like him (and I think, if you don't mind me guessing, the reason you still do Malc). It would have won him 50 states. At the least California, Pennsylvania, probably Florida & maybe Ohio.

He would have been fighting Obama on his own ground, being moderate and sensible enough to beat him there, with the experience and foreign-policy expertise to win in areas Obama couldn't even compete in.

Instead we got the traditional Republican campaign, lurching to the right, talking nonsense about abortion, losing the middle ground.

Palin is a symbol of all the worst parts of it, and he hasnt done enough to remind us why we liked him.

Caron 31 October 2008 at 22:06  

I think you were right then and you are right now. At the time, I thought she was an intelligent pick because she would energise the religious right in a way that McCain wouldn't - she would give them a reason to vote in the same way that Rove's homophobic ballots did 4 years ago.

It all unravelled, then - Troopergate, the appalling tv interviews, tales of strife in the camp and book banning. We all thought at the time that McCain would at least have had her properly vetted

Watch her come back rehabilitated in either 2012 or 2016, though. I think she might wait 8 years and not bother taking on Obama in 2012, if we wins on Tuesday.

stuart w,  1 November 2008 at 07:27  

I obviously don't follow American politics as much as you folks(!), but it seems to me that Palin was chosen for essentially superficial/symbolic/populist reasons (female, attractive, right-wing etc), but it all backfired because people soon saw through all this and realised that she lacked substance.

Of course, it could have easily gone the other way; George Bush was a lightweight, but won two terms, but even in his case the chickens have come home to roost insofar as now people don't want a female George Dubbya.

Holyrood Patter 1 November 2008 at 15:49  

You have cut me deep Malc. I was only kidding:(. Your analysis of the election has been better than most, including mine.

Malc 1 November 2008 at 20:59  


I see what you’re saying. I don’t think there was ever any chance that McCain would have won California, less still that he’d have won all 50 states. And I think you recognise the things I like about McCain – they’re not the right-wing McCain that he has been cast as/ cast himself* (*delete depending on viewpoint).

McCain could not have taken on Obama on his own ground on the basis that the media have already cast Obama as their candidate, THE candidate that talks to the centre – as McCain couldn’t compete there.

McCain had the choice. He could have ran the campaign that you wanted him to… and lost heavily to Obama on the centre. Or he could run to the right and try to make sure his core vote comes out and hope that is enough. Guess we’ll find out in a couple of days whether it is enough.

Malc 1 November 2008 at 21:09  


Thanks very much for that vote of confidence! I’m just doing what everyone in America has done I think… praising the pick when it was bold, second guessing it when it looks like it might not work.

I may be a bit premature though – if McCain wins on Tuesday, then I guess the gamble works and it is a good pick, right?

Malc 1 November 2008 at 21:23  

Stuart W,

Good to have you here! I’ll disagree with you on the primary reasons that Palin was picked – I think it was for three reasons: energise the conservative base, appeal to the women who were p***ed that Clinton was shunned by the Democrats and counteract the “first” tag that Obama had.

Maybe I’m not disagreeing with you so much as categorising it differently.

Malc 1 November 2008 at 21:29  


Yeah, I might have over-reacted a tad. But I like to think I'm honest enough to point out when what I've been saying is a load of s***! So apologies for that.

PJ 1 November 2008 at 21:34  

Malc, given the interest that this post has generated it strikes me that perhaps another detrimental factor of the Palin choice for the Republicans has been how much attention she has detracted from McCain. Biden on the other hand has managed to maintain a slightly more discretionary role.

Perhaps this is just my perception of the media coverage.

Malc 1 November 2008 at 22:29  


That's certainly an interesting take on it. One thing I'd say though. Biden hasn't really had much of an opportunity to define himself given the MSM's obsession with Obama. Palin has fulfilled that role on the Republican side - but it hasn't been as positive as the publicity that Obama has!

It is interesting how much interest this post has generated.

Sam 2 November 2008 at 13:08  

I agree that the general media reaction to Obama has been positive and far too uncritical or enquiring. But they haven't really been presented with a choice. McCain would have been a different type of candidate to anything seen before, especially if he had pursued the "centre strategy". Then I think we would have seen a more interesting debate around the two candidates, as neither would have been doing the same old Dem/Rep campaigns.

Also there would have been less focus on the "gimmicks", of race, Palin, Joe the plumber etc, and indeed less need for them.

By the way, what is MSM?

Malc 2 November 2008 at 14:26  


MSM - Mainstream Media. Basically what you were talking about!

I think it would have been brave but ultimately foolish of McCain to run a centrist campaign against the might of Obama's finance and media backing. If he'd challenged him for the centre ground he'd have lost.

I think he was pressed into a corner and HAD to go with a more conservative agenda. I think the votes are there for him to win with that campaign - it is just whether they come out to vote or note.

As I see America, it is pretty much an even split between Dems and Reps... meaning mobilising your support wins you the election. Crossover appeal would have been great - I think Obama will snare a lot of moderate Republicans (Colin Powell for one, several of my American friends for others) but with Obama as an opponent, McCain would never have had the same crossover appeal to moderate (or, more conservative Democrats). Thus the move right.

If America wasn't the divided country it is, then the "centre strategy" as you put it might have been the way to go. It may be in the future, but I think there's a long way to go before a candidate from one of the main parties can appeal to huge swathes of both parties.

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