One of the reasons why Palin’s name seems to have been kept such a closely-guarded secret in the weeks leading up to the announcement on Friday seems to be that the McCain campaign made the choice in haste and did not engage in the thorough vetting that one assumes campaigns do. That lack of preparation ensured that the public and media would experience maximal surprise–and it will probably ensure future surprises for the McCain campaign! This is the classic McCain style: blindly winging things from day to day with no coherent or consistent plan for what comes next. While many people are taking the Palin pick as evidence that McCain is unserious or reckless or, when they want to pay him a compliment, a “gambler,” this is simply the latest in a long line of episodes when McCain tried to thrive on nerve and impetuous actions instead of relying on long-term strategy and careful planning. In this move, McCain has shown, mostly for ill, that he is the antithesis of Obama. A maverick temperament married to utterly establishment political views is probably the worst conceivable combination, since it carries with it all of the dangers of an unpredictable person who holds real power and all the flaws of Washington consensus politics.
Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan has been on the warpath since Friday. Andrew had the mistaken impression that McCain and the GOP were at some point in the recent past serious about national security, which the Palin pick now seems to contradict, and so he has been disgusted with the cynicism of McCain’s move. Let’s remember this much: half of the modern GOP’s reputation on national security is based on bluster and exaggeration, and the other half is based on the successes of previous administrations that pursued courses of action that most of the modern GOP would find abhorrent and full of appeasement. McCain’s candidacy represents the full embrace of the first half and the almost complete neglect of the latter, except when there is a useful Reagan reference to be made. Choosing Palin is no more and no less cynical than anything else McCain has done over the years.
There was something from one of Andrew’s latest posts that jumped out at me:
[Brookhiser]‘s discovering that the actual people in the Republican base are much less interested in national security than in religious orthodoxy.
Whether or not Brookhiser is aware that the party base is not all that deeply attached to the Iraq war or that they are not especially concerned about national security on the level of policy, it seems to me that Andrew is misreading the reaction to Palin’s pick rather badly. The activists and movement spokesmen are the ones who are excited and energized, but these are the very people who wanted to fight the candidacies of both McCain and Huckabee–the largest vote-getters–for as long as possible. The bulk of GOP primary voters were not interested in national security or religious orthodoxy as such, but were instead drawn to appealing or seemingly appealing personalities, and they were particularly drawn to those candidates with what they call compelling biographies. What the Palin pick has done is to excite all those activists who hated the idea of a McCain nomination and thought that Huckabee was something close to a lesser demon, which is to say that it has “solidified” behind McCain precisely those people on the right who were the most likely to crawl across broken glass to vote against Obama anyway. Now they will be more enthusiastic as they crawl across the broken glass. The choice has gained McCain next to nothing, and probably lost him a great deal.
Brookhiser is also badly confused if he does not understand that the only thing that saved McCain’s campaign during the primaries was his position on the war; the only thing that energized people about McCain’s candidacy was his view on the war and his constant yammering about the “surge.” For a huge number of Republicans, his biography and his support for the war combined to outweigh all of his many flaws, and now choosing Palin has tipped the balance in his favor for most of those Republicans who were clearly unhappy that he prevailed instead of Romney. Religiosity is just one piece, and perhaps not even the most important piece, of the enthusiasm about Palin. Far more important for many of these people is the impression that McCain has finally yielded to conservative demands rather than having insisted on mocking and insulting their concerns. Conservatives were girding themselves for the worst, for Lieberman, and instead they wound up with a right-wing Alaskan–I would put the exuberant reaction to the choice down to shock as much as to anything else. Above all, it is the belief that movement conservatives have finally beaten McCain, and that the “maverick” has conformed to their wishes that fills them with so much excitement.