Sarah Palin may have enraptured the party faithful, but the Republicans will condemn themselves to a long time in the wilderness if they allow her to run in 2012by Erik Tarloff / December 20, 2008 / Leave a comment
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Unlike her vanquished running mate, the governor of Alaska is not going gently into that good night.
Plucked out of obscurity by a desperate John McCain, Sarah Palin was initially not much more than a Rorschach ink blot onto which observers could project their own imaginings. No one in the other 49 states knew anything substantive about her (most didn’t even know her name). But the politically-savvy operatives of the religious right were aware, through their grapevine, that she was one of them; they knew her opposition to abortion was categorical and unconditional, and hence they had placed her name on a shortlist of acceptable running mates provided to McCain, more as a ukase than helpful guidance. “Pick one of these if you expect our support,” was the implicit message. And so in September, in the midst of a successful Democratic convention, having lagged in the polls all year and facing the prospect of a dispirited convention of his own, McCain, not untypically, took a gamble.
It made a certain tactical sense. The right clearly liked the idea of Sarah Palin even if they didn’t know her well. Hillary Clinton supporters were reportedly unhappy with the way their candidate had been treated by the Obama forces and might respond positively to the selection of a woman on the opposing ticket. The novelty and unexpectedness of the choice might galvanise an otherwise unenthusiastic party base. Although Palin hadn’t been adequately vetted, and although McCain barely knew her, his situation was dire enough to prompt him to go for it. In chess, this is called a “desperado tactic”: launching an unsound attack when your position is untenable. In American football, it’s called a “Hail Mary”: throwing long and praying someone on your team will fortuitously be in position to catch the ball and score.
Taking a very narrow and very short-term view, the manoeuvre succeeded. The right wing of an increasingly conservative Republican party was thrilled. The novelty of the choice—especially after an interminable primary season in which all of the major players had become drearily familiar—was catnip to the media. The image Palin presented to the world—an ordinary, quite attractive family woman with extraordinary energy and common sense—appealed to voters. Much was made of her delivery of her acceptance speech—even though it was not merely written by others, but written by…