Daniel W. Drezner

My last Palin post for a while

I think Jane Mayer’s New Yorker essay on Sarah Palin was intended to be the shiv that finally does her in, but it had the reverse effect on me — and I’m no fan of the current Sarah Palin.  Compared to Noam Scheiber’s TNR essay, which showed Palin as someone hostile to elites and elite-y ...

I think Jane Mayer’s New Yorker essay on Sarah Palin was intended to be the shiv that finally does her in, but it had the reverse effect on me — and I’m no fan of the current Sarah Palin.  Compared to Noam Scheiber’s TNR essay, which showed Palin as someone hostile to elites and elite-y things like policy expertise, Mayer’s essay actually made me like Palin much more.  Mayer reveals that Palin courted DC concervatives by hiring DC lobbyists and talking to Weekly Standard and National Review types when they came on Alaska cruises.  So, in other words — gasp! — Palin was ambitious and good at power-schmoozing.  Meh. Ambitious politicians are not exactly unusual, and Palin’s ambition has never been a concern.   Her utter conviction that she already knows enough to become the leader of the free world, however, scares the living bejeezus out of me.  Mayer’s article is a damning indictment, but not of Sarah Palin.  It’s the DC conservative cocktail circuit and John McCain who come off worse for wear.  Fred Barnes, William Kristol, Jay Nordlinger and Dick Morris come off as besotted teenagers suffering from Rich Lowry’s Syndrome.  They’re the ones who believed her to be ready to lead, and are now blaming McCain’s handlers and a hostile media for her crash and burn on the national stage.* McCain, meanwhile, comes off as a follower and not a leader in his own campaign: 

By the spring, the McCain campaign had reportedly sent scouts to Alaska to start vetting Palin as a possible running mate. A week or so before McCain named her, however, sources close to the campaign say, McCain was intent on naming his fellow-senator Joe Lieberman, an independent, who left the Democratic Party in 2006. David Keene, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, who is close to a number of McCain’s top aides, told me that “McCain and Lindsey Graham”—the South Carolina senator, who has been McCain’s closest campaign companion—“really wanted Joe.” But Keene believed that “McCain was scared off” in the final days, after warnings from his advisers that choosing Lieberman would ignite a contentious floor fight at the Convention, as social conservatives revolted against Lieberman for being, among other things, pro-choice. “They took it away from him,” a longtime friend of McCain—who asked not to be identified, since the campaign has declined to discuss its selection process—said of the advisers. “He was furious. He was pissed. It wasn’t what he wanted.” Another friend disputed this, characterizing McCain’s mood as one of “understanding resignation.” With just days to go before the Convention, the choices were slim. Karl Rove favored McCain’s former rival Mitt Romney, but enough animus lingered from the primaries that McCain rejected the pairing. “I told Romney not to wait by the phone, because ‘he doesn’t like you,’ ” Keene, who favored the choice, said. “With John McCain, all politics is personal.” Other possible choices—such as former Representative Rob Portman, of Ohio, or Governor Tim Pawlenty, of Minnesota—seemed too conventional. They did not transmit McCain’s core message that he was a “maverick.” Finally, McCain’s top aides, including Steve Schmidt and Rick Davis, converged on Palin. Ed Rogers, the chairman of B.G.R., a well-connected, largely Republican lobbying firm, said, “Her criteria kept popping out. She was a governor—that’s good. The shorter the Washington résumé the better. A female is better still. And then there was her story.” He admitted, “There was concern that she was a novice.” In addition to Schmidt and Davis, Charles R. Black, Jr., the lobbyist and political operative who is McCain’s chief campaign adviser, reportedly favored Palin. Keene said, “I’m told that Charlie Black told McCain, ‘If you pick anyone else, you’re going to lose. But if you pick Palin you may win.’ ” (Black did not return calls for comment.) Meanwhile, McCain’s longtime friend said, “Kristol was out there shaking the pom-poms.”

I actually think Black’s assessment was correct, but surely someone as obsessed with honor as John McCain might have cared just a little bit about post-election governing, no?  *One meme that I’ve seen forming in the past month is that Palin has done fine except for the Katie Couric interview, and that was only because Couric asked follow-up questions.  With all due respect, that’s a load of bull.  Her interviews with Gibson and Hannity were almost as bad as her Couric interactions.  Her debate performance wore thin after the first 15 minutes.  She’s committed a variety of smaller gaffes at her campaign rallies.  Between her convention speech and her Saturday Night Live appearance, almost every Palin action that a camera has recorded has not treated her favorably.  She’s been listed as a key reason for a string of conservative editorial board endorsements of Obama.  This cannot be chalked up to a few miscues.  Palin’s campaign performance has been an abject disaster. 

 Twitter: @dandrezner

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