Monday, November 10, 2008

The Palin Effect

In a column he describes as an "easy postmortem," syndicated neocon Charles Krauthammer of The Washington Post Writer's Group analyzed the loss of John McCain, attributing it primarily to the economic collapse. That collapse was especially destructive to McCain's candidacy because the selection of Sarah Palin to be the "heartbeat from the presidency" exposed the weakness of the ticket in addressing the economic crisis and of the vacuity of the "America First" slogan.

Krauthammer had criticized the selection of Sarah Palin for vice-president but adamantly endorsed the GOP ticket shortly before the election because he much preferred McCain to Obama, especially on the matters of national defense. In like manner, he notes now

Palin was a mistake ("near suicidal," I wrote on the day of her selection) because she completely undercut McCain's principal case against Obama - his inexperience and unreadiness to lead. Her nomination not only intellectually undermined the readiness argument, it changed the election dynamic by shifting attention, for days on end, to her preparedness, fitness and experience - and away from Obama's.

I obviously believe(d) the Illinois senator is sufficiently prepared, fit, and experienced to be President. This is one reason I always thought choosing the Alaska governor as the running mate for John McCain was a mistake. Unable, then, to harp on his experience (as I have on the Palin Blunder) and patriotism (yes, Obama is just as patriotic but doesn't have the P.O.W. experience to highlight), McCain went the economic route. But, as Krauthamer noted,

After all, if even Goldman Sachs was getting government protection, why not you? And offering the comfort and safety of government is the Democratic Party's vocation. With a Republican White House having partly nationalized the banks and just about everything else, McCain's final anti-Obama maneuver - Joe-the-Plumber, spread-the-wealth accusations of socialism - became almost comical.

It was even more "comical" than the effort of the Republican team to compete with Barack Obama on the issue of "change." Barack Obama not only represented change, was not only the embodiment of change, but was change itself. (Note the breathless headlines and commentary, suggesting the purge of our racist legacy, following his victory.) Krauthammer comments

McCain thought he could steal the "change" issue from Obama by running a Two Mavericks campaign. It was a fool's errand from the very beginning. It defied logic for the incumbent party's candidate to try to take "change" away from the opposition. Election Day exit polls bore that out with a vengeance. Voters for whom change was the most important issue went 89-to-9 for Obama.

No doubt Krauthammer's commentary, generally valid, was motivated in part by an effort to deflect blame from the man he claims "will be- he should be- remembered as the most worthy presidentail nominee ever to be denied the prize" (Hubert Humphrey, Al Gore, others; did I mention Hubert Humphrey?. But now comes more objective evidence of the mistake the campaign made just before the Republican National Convention.

Curtis B. Gans is director of the Committe for the Study of the American Electorate. He has concluded (pdf) that the percentage of eligible citizens turning out to vote in this election was at most 1% higher than in 2004, in part because the heralded jump in registration "was driven by Democratic and independent registration and that the long lines at the polls were mostly populated by Democrats." And he found three reasons for the decline in Republican turnout, including

John McCain’s efforts to unite the differing factions in the Republican Party by the nomination of Governor Sarah Palin as vice-presidential nominee was a singular failure. By election time many culturally conservative Republicans still did not see him as one of their own and stayed home, while moderate Republicans saw the nomination of Palin reckless and worried about McCain’s steadiness.

As expected, the selection of Sarah Palin galvanized the base- the Democratic base.

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