As expected, the Democrats have pounced on the Palin choice as a gimmick that is both patronizing to women and directly undermines McCain’s promise to pick a VP on the basis of their ability to serve as president. Moreover, it weakens the Republican line of attack that Obama is short on experience. In short, it is a clear signal that McCain – like Mondale in 1984 with his choice of Geraldine Ferrarro – knows his candidacy is in trouble and has resorted to desperate measures.
Despite this obvious and expected line of attack, however, on the whole it appears that the choice of Palin as his vice presidential nominee has had the effect for which McCain hoped; he rolled the dice and – so far – it has come up big. Let me cite three bits of circumstantial evidence in support of this claim:
First, on the night of the announcement, I perused the network news to see how they were covering the story. On CBS, they were doing a comparison of Obama’s experience to Palin’s! Note this – it wasn’t a comparison of Biden’s experience with Palin’s – it was Obama’s and Palin’s! This is precisely what McCain and Republican strategists want to see – a debate on experience that continually reminds voters to consider Obama’s lack thereof.
Second, the pick has apparently bolstered McCain’s once tepid support among the Christian right. Here’s the NYT coverage of James Dobson’s reaction the Palin nomination, (Dobson is frequently described as an accurate barometer of the evangelicals’ political views):
“James C. Dobson, the influential conservative Christian leader who said in the primaries that he could never vote for Mr. McCain, said the selection of Ms. Palin had won him over. If he went into the voting booth today, Mr. Dobson told the talk radio host Dennis Prager on Friday, ‘I would pull that lever.’” (And note the headline to that article: Campaigns Shift as McCain Choice Alters the Race) Again, this is precisely what McCain hoped to do – protect himself from attacks from his own right flank that he is not conservative enough. Palin now becomes his conduit to the Christian right – McCain has inoculated himself against charges that he is too moderate without having to repudiate any of his own issues.
Third – how many of you are going to watch the Republican convention now? I thought so – in choosing Palin, for better or for worse, McCain has temporarily captured the headlines and guaranteed a larger audience for the Republican convention. This provides him with the opportunity to reach out to the disaffected Clinton supporters and potential swing voters.
Keep in mind that none of this would have happened had Obama put Clinton on the ticket; in so doing, he would have essentially closed this option for McCain. But also keep in mind that Palin has not yet been thoroughly vetted by the media, and she may still yet stumble on her inaugural tour of the nation. For this reason, her unveiling at the convention looms large.