Rumors abound as to who the two GOP frontrunners, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, will name as the VP picks. Marco Rubio? Bobby Jindal? Kelly Ayotte? Donald Trump? …just kidding with that last one. But one thing is for certain: Their pick can’t go down as badly as McCain’s.
Sarah Palin was a mistake. There is little to debate in that regard. How big of a mistake she was came on quickly and slammed the GOP straight in the face. Lost among the Palin laugh lines on Saturday Night Live and the continuous reels of blunders made by the now infamous Alaskan was an obvious question: How could the McCain campaign have missed such obvious warning signs? The answer is simple: They didn’t ask.
The book “Game Change” by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin paints a clear picture of the failures of the McCain campaign to fully vet their VP pick. After a long temptation to take on Democrat Joe Lieberman as his VP candidate, McCain finally moved on in the direction of the Great White North. In picking Palin, which was done quite quickly and quite randomly, McCain’s campaign staff (most notably Steve Schmidt and Mark Salter, McCain’s top advisors) asked her plenty of questions.
Do you believe in evolution? – she said yes.
Do you have a problem with McCain’s pro-life stance? – she said no.
Have you thought about the impact this will have on your family? – yes.
Will you be 100 percent committed to this project? – yes.
The problem? None of these have anything to do with her preparedness for the vice presidency. Says the book: “They asked her nothing to plumb the depths of her knowledge about foreign or domestic policy. They didn’t explore her preparedness to be vice president. They assumed she knew as much as the average governor, and what she didn’t know, she would pick up on the fly. They weren’t searching for problems. They were looking for a last-second solution.”
Needless to say, the assumptions Salter and Schmidt made were horrendously wrong. Palin didn’t know why North and South Korea were two different countries, she didn’t read newspapers, and according to the book, thought Saddam Hussein was behind 9/11. Was it logical for the advisory duo to assume that Palin didn’t know any of that? Absolutely not – a well educated seventh grader knows all of that. But she didn’t.
To be fair, the pair knew Palin was a risk. But they thought it was a well-calculated one. They, for instance, picked her over safer Tim Pawlenty, who salter said would gain McCain nothing. “I’d rather lose by 10 points trying to go for the win than lose by one point and say ‘Goddamn it, I should have gone for the win.’”
But the pick came too quickly. When Palin’s name finally hit the airwaves, the McCain campaign was completely ill-prepared to deal with the onslaught of questions because they didn’t know how to answer them. They didn’t know who she was, no one really knew why they had picked her. They just did. They just needed someone fast, and that’s who they got.
But it seems that lessons are already being learned from last cycle’s blunders. Romney seems to have a list of about 15 potential candidates, including Kelly Ayotte, a Republican senator from New Hampshire. He’s also said he’d like someone like Dick Cheney – as unpopular as the man may be. “…whether you agree or disagree with him, this a man of wisdom and judgment, and he could have been president of the United States,” Romney told a crowd while campaigning in Arizona. “That’s the kind of person I’d like to have–a person of wisdom and judgment.”
Gingrich has also chatted a bit about his picks. Earlier this month, he said it was a “real possibility” he would ask Herman Cain to be his running mate, though it’s unclear whether that still stands given Cain’s recent drop from the race. He’s also discussed Florida Senator Marco Rubio and Ohio Senator Rob Portman.
It’s good to see the veep discussion getting started early. After all, we spend months and months picking our president, and then one person gets to select the number two spot for the whole country … by himself. It makes much more sense for the American public to be involved as early in the process as possible.
Sarah Palin was officially announced as the VP candidate on Aug. 28, 2008. The Republican National Convention was held Sept. 1. Keeping the nation in waiting that long is absurd, especially by recent standards. Bush chose Cheney well before the convention, as did Gore with Lieberman and Kerry with Edwards. All of those VP picks went through a heavy vetting process.
The McCain campaign made a mistake by allowing him to believe that he could have Lieberman as his running mate. As close as the two were, that would have been game over for his campaign. Instead, they waited until the bitter end to change his mind and then went with someone they knew little to nothing about.
Newt and Mitt should take a hint. As bitter as the rivalry between the two may become, under no circumstances should they wait as long as McCain to come out with their final picks. Under no circumstances should they put them under such a soft investigation. Hopefully both campaigns have the wherewithal to understand the implications of their VP pick.
While McCain’s campaign may have been doomed for failure even without Palin, Palin has certainly left a negative lasting impression on the Republican Party, and she has become a joke. Her name, when said just the right way, evokes laughter on its own. If our two current frontrunners hope to avoid that fate, it is time to start handing out current event quizzes.