In a surprise move last Friday, McCain chose Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. The selection seems to have been made on the basis of three major considerations. Palin is extremely socially conservative and thus has the potential to reinvigorate the conservative base, which up until this point has been only lukewarm toward the thought of a McCain presidency. Next, Palin’s record of reform, albeit brief, will serve to help shore up McCain’s ticket, not as “more of the same”, but as a maverick force of conservative change. Finally, the decision to pick Palin was meant to help bring some of the disenchanted
Hillary Clinton supporters into the Republican fold, as can clearly be seen in her introduction speech in which she told the women that, “we are not done yet”.
Despite this line of reasoning, the McCain campaign has made a serious tactical error that will no doubt resonate throughout the rest of the campaign. The number of disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters is going to be insubstantial, considering that Gov. Palin is staunchly conservative and pro-life, so long as Hillary and Bill Clinton continue to campaign wholeheartedly for the Obama-Biden ticket. The main problem, however, is that Palin’s experience consists of being the mayor of a small town and then governor of Alaska for less than two years. In choosing a candidate that is arguably less experienced than Barack Obama, the McCain campaign has undermined what has recently become the main talking point of their campaign, namely, that Obama is not ready to lead. Even a McCain aide agreed with this statement, saying, “While it’s a dramatic and interesting choice, it would make the argument he’s making difficult to make” (The New York Times).
If Obama is not ready to lead based on his experience, then why would the McCain campaign pick someone with less (or equal) experience to be the Vice President for what would be the oldest President ever elected to office? This backfires for McCain in two ways. First, to the extent that he has made the argument that Obama is not ready to lead, he will come across either as disingenuous, or worse, irresponsible in his pick of what could become the next President if he were unable to complete his term. Secondly, he will have to cut back his questioning of “Is he ready to lead?,” his only solid attack of Obama, when the question now comes back to rest squarely on Palin and the decision-making behind her selection.
The choice is not without possible traps for the Obama campaign, however, for if the Democratic party frames the Palin selection around her lack of experience, the discussion will quickly turn into an unfavorable referendum on Obama’s own resume. Instead, the discussion of Palin must focus on the fact that after McCain has spent the last months asking constantly “Is he ready to lead?,” he has picked a running mate with less experience (at least on a national level) than Obama, and in doing so questions not Palin’s qualification but instead McCain’s decision-making. If done effectively, the selection of Palin can, very easily, be also used to undermine McCain’s slogan of “Country First” by framing the selection as a reckless decision in which, ultimately, politics came before country.