McCain was rushed, got sloppy

How this sordid tale epitomizes the worst elements of the entire Republican governing project.

Published September 2, 2008 12:59PM (EDT)

Forget about Sarah Palin as a person. Forget about her pregnancy or her daughter's. This selection is not about them: It is about the competence and judgment of John McCain.

And on that score, McCain looks like the utterly incompetent, rash, overconfident and desperate candidate that he is. He looks like a man who figured that the normal rules don't apply to him -- that he would yet again be permitted a free pass from his party and the media because, well, he did spend those five and a half years as a prisoner of war.

Here is the New York Times' account of the slipshod job McCain and his campaign did not just in vetting the selection of Sarah Palin, but in actually thinking through that nomination:

With time running out -- and as Mr. McCain discarded two safer choices, Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota and former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, as too predictable -- he turned to Ms. Palin. He had his first face-to-face interview with her on Thursday and offered her the job moments later. Advisers to Mr. Pawlenty and another of the finalists on Mr. McCain's list described an intensive vetting process for those candidates that lasted one to two months.

"They didn't seriously consider her until four or five days from the time she was picked, before she was asked, maybe the Thursday or Friday before," said a Republican close to the campaign. "This was really kind of rushed at the end, because John didn't get what he wanted. He wanted to do Joe or Ridge."

And later:

"They didn't speak to anyone in the Legislature, they didn't speak to anyone in the business community," said Lyda Green, the State Senate president, who lives in Wasilla, where Ms. Palin served as mayor ...

"I started calling around and asking, and I have not been able to find one person that was called," [Rep. Gail Phillips, a Republican and former speaker of the State House] said. "I called 30 to 40 people, political leaders, business leaders, community leaders. Not one of them had heard. Alaska is a very small community, we know people all over, but I haven't found anybody who was asked anything."

So there you have it: Determined first and foremost to get it announced on Friday so as to squash Obama's convention speech/bounce, as well as to make a naked, fumbling and ultimately insulting ploy to attract disgruntled Hillary Clinton supporters simply by picking any woman, McCain chose Palin without really thinking it through.

From David Stockman to David Addington, we have witnessed in Republican circles the elevation of politics and partisan advantage over policy and principle. In that light, does this selection really surprise? McCain's decision has all the hallmarks of the GOP's politicization of the public sphere: rashness, overconfidence, an unwillingness to consider contingencies and tradeoffs, the certainty that any bad decision can be shrewdly spun as genius, the willingness to direct phony outrage toward critics, the pathetic kowtowing to the nut job wing of the party, and a general disregard for the stewardship of the country or its policies.

And as for "time running out"? I'm sorry: McCain sewed up the nomination three months before Barack Obama did. He had eons to think through this decision.

The Palin selection thus epitomizes the Republican revolution -- and may well be regarded as its final, jump-the-shark moment.

By Thomas Schaller

Thomas F. Schaller is professor of political science at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the author of "Whistling Past Dixie: How Democrats Can Win Without the South." Follow him @schaller67.

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2008 Elections John Mccain R-ariz. Sarah Palin