September 1, 2008

McCain's Palin Gamble

Well, there has been a little time to adjust and absorb McCain's Palin pick and its a mixed bag for Team McCain from where I sit.

On the up side:

The majority of the conservative base loves the pick. Her outsider cred, pro-life stance, family woman profile coupled with the rugged Alaskan, gun wielding persona is a hit with the christian right. She's generated money and more enthusiasm in a matter of days than has been ginned up through the majority of McCain's campaign.

With this pick, McCain makes an identity politics play that has left the Left somewhat confounded. They are fearful that Palin will serve as a rallying point, allow McCain to solidify himself as Maverick, reformer and possessor of all things American.

On the down side:

While the conservative base seems to love her, that enthusiasm does not appear to be catching on with other portions of the electorate, and particularly not so with regard to the so-called PUMA contingent, disaffected Democratic women voters. Voters also appear to see McCain's pick as a hail Mary pass, not uniformly as a pick that is an extension of his character and Maverick brand.

Palin's vetting process was not as thorough or in depth as it could have been and now we are getting a dribble drabble of all things Palin in terms of her positions and past actions. So we're hearing about membership in the AIP, past support of a windfall profits tax and how she voted for the bridge to nowhere before she voted against it.

My take a few days in:

McCain scores a win with Palin in ginning up conservative base enthusiam. Young people and politically engaged republicans are jumping on the bandwagon and its a shot in the arm for fundraising though it remains to be seen how long lived the effect is. Score one for McCain.

On balance, that may not offset the negatives that have accrued thus far. While republican CW is that the pick puts Team Obama in a box as far as criticizing her experience, I think thats not going to play in that direction as much as republicans would like and the reason why? Because republicans have to defend whether or not she has the experience to be president. They have to make the case that her experience is better than his and to do so they attempt to differentiate it qualitatively. The simple fact that they have to make a case for it takes some of their argument against Obama on experience away. In fact, some of the surrogates have implicitly conceded that she lacks the experience with their statements, like Charlie Black, top McCain adviser who said that Palin would learn foreign experience at the feet of a master.

The dribble drabble of Palin news thats coming out that seems to indicate that she was not vetted particularly well. Her daughter's pregnancy, the Troopergate affair, past support of windfall profits tax, membership in the AIP and who knows what else might emerge. There are a variety of unanswered questions out there.

We don't know yet if this political risk is going to ultimately pan out. While conservative sites are going berserk about sexist and biased attacks being slung Palin's way and raising the alarm about how the blogosphere and the media are going to smear her because of the daughter's pregnancy and the experience question, I think they are missing the larger issue. Railing against the MSM or liberal blog sites about how they react to the pregnancy is one thing, but the issue is how it plays in the electorate. When you aggressively push the christian right family values position, and then seem to come up short within your family, joe sixpack voter who shares the family values but has not come up short like that in their own family may feel like Palin is not authentic.

I think McCain has already committed an error. This first presidential decision is to pick a VP who is qualified to be president if necessary and qualification is both a resume issue and confidence issue on the part of the electorate. Bottom line, McCain did not select a running mate who is unquestionably qualified. If surrogates have to go on the Sunday talk shows to make the case that her experience is better or sufficient, it begs the question. It should not have been a question at all. This is the opening that Obama has been looking for, if they are prepared to exploit it. They should be swinging hard at McCain's judgment on picking Palin, because she was not fully vetted and her experience can be questioned.

Whether or not you think Obama's background qualifies him to be president, Obama has the benefit at this point that his experience and background have been passed on by millions of voters in all 50 states. Palin's has not. McCain is the only one who has passed on her credentials to be president. Obama should take care to shoot at the real target here, which is not Palin. Team Obama has to make this about the electorate evaluating McCain's judgment.