McCain Narrative 4: Team of Mavericks vs. Old-Style Washington
And now…the Palin pick…
On Sunday, Aug. 24, Schmidt and a few other senior advisers again convened for a general strategy meeting at the Phoenix Ritz-Carlton. McInturff, the pollster, brought somewhat-reassuring new numbers. The Celebrity motif had taken its toll on Obama. It was no longer third and nine, the pollster said â€” meaning, among other things, that McCain might well be advised to go with a safe pick as his running mate.
Then for a half-hour or so, the group reviewed names that had been bandied about in the past: Gov. Tim Pawlenty (of Minnesota) and Gov. Charlie Crist (of Florida); the former governors Tom Ridge (Pennsylvania) and Mitt Romney (Massachusetts); Senator Joe Lieberman (Connecticut); and Mayor Michael Bloomberg (New York). From a branding standpoint, they wondered, what message would each of these candidates send about John McCain? McInturffâ€™s polling data suggested that none of these candidates brought significantly more to the ticket than any other.
â€œWhat about Sarah Palin?â€ Schmidt asked.
After a moment of silence, Fred Davis, McCainâ€™s creative director (and not related to Rick), said, â€œI did the ads for her gubernatorial campaign.â€ But Davis had never once spoken with Palin, the governor of Alaska. Since the Republican Governors Association had paid for his work, Davis was prohibited by campaign laws from having any contact with the candidate. All Davis knew was that the R.G.A. folks had viewed Palin as a talent to keep an eye on. â€œSheâ€™d certainly be a maverick pick,â€ he concluded.
The meeting carried on without Schmidt or Rick Davis uttering an opinion about Palin. Few in the room were aware that the two had been speaking to each other about Palin for some time now. Davis was with McCain when the two met Palin for the first time, at a reception at the National Governors Association winter meeting in February, in the J. W. Marriott Hotel in Washington. It had not escaped McCainâ€™s attention that Palin had blasted through the oleaginous Alaska network dominated by Frank Murkowski and Ted Stevens, much in the same manner that McCain saw himself doing when he was a young congressman. Newt Gingrich and others had spoken of Palin as a rising star. Davis saw something else in Palin â€” namely, a way to re-establish the maverick persona McCain had lost while wedding himself to Bushâ€™s war. A female running mate might also pick off some disaffected Hillary Clinton voters.
Again, I think this will prove to be one of the worst decisions McCain has made in his career. Because he went from a campaign narrative of “I’m the tested leader” to “Change is coming.” And while they did get a momentary bump out of the convention, that quickly evaporated as people started to really get to know Palin, her record and her glaring unreadiness on the national stage.