Watching Conor Friedersdorf wade calmly into battle with hordes of angry RedStaters has been terribly amusing, though along the way it’s also given me some painful flashbacks. That said, I find it immensely difficult to believe that having Sarah Palin withdrawn from the ticket could actually give a boost to John McCain’s chances for victory: not because her presence isn’t likely to prove a net negative at the end of the day, but rather because (as the insane response to Conor’s argument from those who are “on the team” has already made clear enough) the sort of chaos that would result from showing her the door would likely do him even worse. (Can you imagine where the folks at SNL would go with that?)
More fundamentally, though, it’s hard for me to see why a serious conservative like Conor should care about the fate of Senator McCain’s presidential bid in the first place. On taxes, spending, energy, and pretty much every other aspect of policy that doesn’t involve getting us into foreign wars, the man presently at the top of the Republican ticket appears every bit as incompetent as the woman at the bottom – and when it came to the Bush administration’s proposed guest worker program, whose defeat Conor highlights as one of the most important conservative victories of the Bush years, McCain’s views were squarely aligned with the policies that Conor deplored. The same goes for what he rightly tags as the hollowness of Palin’s appeal to “tax cuts, religious faith, and the empty claim of an outsider’s perspective” as the reasons to vote for her – just switch POW status in for the second of these, and tell me how it is that the case for John McCain fares any better. The awfulness of the “awful choice” that the Republican ticket presents to conservatives does not, in other words, reside only in one of its halves: pretty much everything Conor says makes it clear that it’s McCain, and not just Palin, who needs to go if the option of voting Republican is going to be palatable.
Conor rightly insists that “relevant experience, demonstrated competence, and an ability to articulate and defend conservative principles” should be demanded of a president-in-waiting, and no doubt he is right about that. But – aside, of course, from his much-touted experience – why exactly should we think that John McCain meets these criteria? And why should we care who his running-mate is if he doesn’t?
I think I’ll take a mulligan.