Earlier this week, within minutes of watching Sarah Palin's speech at the Republican National Convention, I wrote a short post (for which I was immediately subject to Palin-esque scorn and ridicule; sometimes words hurt too) indicating that I thought she had done very, very well, and that I was concerned that she had rallied the right wing segment of the party behind McCain for the first time in this election. I stand by that assessment, but I am retreating somewhat from the conclusion I drew from it, which is that the Obama campaign was fried as a result of an energized conservative base.
There are a couple of reasons for my new thinking, all intertwined to some degree:
First, I have to admit, Open Bar is exactly right that with the Palin selection, the Republican party has completely abandoned the principles of fiscal conservatism and national security that attract broad segments of the population in favor of the evangelical conservative orthodoxy that mark Pailn's candidacy: guns, god, gays, and fetuses.
Second, I had lunch yesterday with a few friends, two of whom are true independents (by that I mean they honestly did not know who they were going to vote for; not people like me who claim to be independent but have voted for a Democrat every single time I have had the opportunity). These guys were both leaning heavily in favor of McCain. I think they are both too cynical to have been moved all that much (as I was) by an Obama candidacy that seemed, until recently, to be long on eloquence and short on substance. Within days of the Palin pick, these two were both unequivocally clear that they would vote for Obama. It was amazing to see two people (anecdotal, I admit, but still compelling) who were so up in the air come down so definitively in favor of one candidate. These are guys who would have voted republican because they care about fiscal conservatism and national security, but who are unmoved by the far right's infatuation with the singular issue of abortion. To them, having a far right extremist a heartbeat away from the presidency is unacceptable.
Finally, I think it is also fair to say that with the polls remaining close, and the presidency hanging in the balance, most Republicans -- even the ones on the far right -- would have sucked it up and voted for McCain (just like we all would have, and I can admit this now, if HRC had been the Democratic candidate). By contrast, the voters in the middle truly are up for grabs. I don't have hard numbers, but it is fair to point out that the Palin pick probably shored up a base that was ultimately going McCain anyway, while alienating a group that he desperately needs, and might now cut in favor of Obama.
I am still concerned that Americans are not quite as thoughtful as the two friends I had lunch with yesterday, and that there are many people who might be swayed to come out and vote for a McCain/Palin ticket that might have protested a McCain/Romney or McCain/Ridge ticket, but I am hopeful that for each one of them, there are two independent voters who read up on Gov. Palin and conclude that (a) John McCain demonstrated poor judgment in picking her, and (b) she is not qualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency. I am still concerned that this woman has awoken a sleeping elephant that we would have rather let lie, but I also see and appreciate the point of view that this selection will end up hurting McCain and helping Obama.