Most of America shrugged–Huh?–when it read about Sarah Palin’s selection as his running mate. But news is gradually emerging of the behind-the-scenes battle that caused her star to rise and others’ stars to fade in the runup to this critical announcement.
The N.Y. Times reports that McCain really wanted Joe Lieberman, who after all has become his closest political ally, friend, and surrogate:
Up until midweek last week, some 48 to 72 hours before Mr. McCain introduced Ms. Palin at a Friday rally in Dayton, Ohio, Mr. McCain was still holding out the hope that he could choose a good friend, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, independent of Connecticut, a Republican close to the campaign said. Mr. McCain had also been interested in another favorite, former Gov. Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania.
But both men favor abortion rights, anathema to the Christian conservatives who make up a crucial base of the Republican Party. As word leaked out that Mr. McCain was seriously considering the men, the campaign was bombarded by outrage from influential conservatives who predicted an explosive floor fight at the convention and vowed rejection of Mr. Ridge or Mr. Lieberman by the delegates.
Perhaps more important, several Republicans said, Mr. McCain was getting advice that if he did not do something to shake up the race, his campaign would be stuck on a potentially losing trajectory.
There are several things I find extraordinary about what this passage says about John McCain and the Republican Party. First, that McCain’s original instincts about choosing a V.P. were a lot sounder than his final choice. While I would have strongly opposed Lieberman on other grounds, at least he IS a true moderate in a Republican sense. Ridge too had strong moderate credentials. All this would’ve stood McCain in good stead in a general election in which he would have to do well among independents to win.
What this says about the Party is that it is so riven by factionalism, and that the evangelical wing is so ascendant, that it prevented McCain from going with his moderate, maverick gut feeling. His gut was right. He needed a moderate on the ticket. But he chose a right-winger to satisfy the Party. Unfortunately for McCain, he has to run shackled to a Party that ideologically appears light years more conservative than he is.
The fact that conservatives even threatened to derail McCain’s own preferred V.P. candidate on the floor of the convention seems almost unbelievable to me. It means there are elements within the Party who are willing to take it down in flames if their presidential candidate doesn’t pass an ideological litmus test.
You can talk all you want about the dissension among Democrats between Clinton and Obama (and there IS a good deal of it). But whatever bad blood there may be–Obama has not been forced to squelch his fundamental political instincts in order to win his Party’s nomination. However moderate Joe Biden may be in a Democratic context, he wasn’t virtually imposed on Obama in order to win the fealty of a specific interest group within the Party as Palin was.
If you add on top of this the absolute shellacking Palin is taking as news emerges of her questionable background and political/personal history, along with the disarray that Hurricane Gustav caused to the Party’s convention plans, I think you have a Republican Party in serious trouble. I realize this is not reflected in either the polls or fundraising tallies. But I think these inner contradictions have already begun to take a toll and will continue to do so.
This is clearly a Party divided against itself and in the long run it–or at least John McCain’s candidacy–cannot stand.