Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Two Weeks in Politics -- Take II

As more information leaks to the press about the Republican Party’s – make that John McCain’s – choice for vice-president, the more apparent it becomes that the choice of Alaska’s first term governor was a bolt from the blue for most of the party as well as for many advisors to McCain.

That Governor Palin was also surprised seems evident from the heavy schedule she has been following. She has travelled and campaigned with McCain for significant periods of time trying to build rapport with the Republican base, with independents, and with the reputed tens of thousands of disgruntled pro-Clinton Democrats. When not campaigning since she was selected to complete the national Republican ticket, Palin has been sequestered with top McCain policy experts reading, listening, and – in a word – cramming like the proverbial popular college sports jock who doesn’t crack a book until the last night before finals and still expects to pass.

She is quite probably a fast study, and with the Teleprompters used by all candidates, I expect she will do well tonight.

The more interesting point for the moment, however, still comes back to “Why Palin?” In 2000, George W. Bush picked Dick Cheney as the vice-presidential candidate because (so we have been told) the two men were comfortable working with each other. (As a side bar, Wyoming, Cheney’s legal state of residence, has only two Electoral College votes while Alaska has three, so the “electoral college vote” consideration again doesn’t apply in 2008 for the Republicans. But don’t overlook the fact that Senator Joe Biden, the Democrat’s number two on the 2008 ticket, is from Delaware, which also has only two Electoral College votes.)


I think the explanation lies deeper and has more to do with McCain’s first impressions of the people he meets who eventually turn up in his entourage. Remember, John McCain was one of George W. Bush’s main rivals in the 2000 GOP presidential sweepstakes. That means that the Republican National Committee (RNC) has been in the hands of Bush adherents for the last eight years. They were not pleased when McCain jumped into the 2008 campaign and started criticizing administration policies. (And I doubt the RNC was very forgiving when McCain’s position on the Iraq war aligned with the generals’ and – eventually – with Bush’s.

I would venture that many RNC members were unenthusiastic when McCain effectively won the GOP nomination for president in February. Deservedly or not, McCain won on the basis of his reputation as a maverick, as a reformer, and as a fiscal conservative.

These are the attributes that were stressed about Governor Palin when she was introduced by McCain last Friday. McCain reportedly had met Palin only once until last week. Her name had been on the list of possible vice-presidential candidates for some time and background checks had been run – although just how intense and probing they were remains in dispute. Most revealing is the fact that the chief of the McCain campaign’s vice-presidential search team did not meet with Palin until a few hours before McCain himself had a more-than-say-howdy meeting with Palin on Wednesday, two days before he announced she would be the vice-presidential candidate.

Going into this selection process, I think the RNC would have been content to let McCain stumble on the vice-presidential pick, forcing him to turn to them for help at the convention and putting McCain in political debt to the “old guard” of the Grand Old Party. Although it is too soon to know, McCain may have eluded a political minefield set, not by the Democrats, but by fellow Republicans.

Ain’t ‘merican politics won’erful?

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