It's all about McCain

Sarah Palin became a laughingstock on the eve of the V.P. debate. But the GOP ticket's troubles start at the top.

By Joan Walsh
Published October 3, 2008 10:23AM (EDT)

It's nice to be right sometimes. In a post last month about "the McCain-Palin bounce," I predicted the GOP ticket was riding a temporary high, and that John McCain's nasty campaign and rash V.P. pick would not sit well with voters in the long run. The long run is here. This may be McCain's worst week since his poorly run, arrogant "front-runner" primary campaign fell apart in 2007. Via Tom Schaller, I saw that our friends at Real Clear Politics are tracking him as behind in the last 18 consecutive national and battleground state polls. With just over a month until the election, time is not McCain's friend this time around.

It's easy, and even a little bit entertaining, to point to one televised Sarah Palin humiliation after another to explain McCain's sinking campaign. But the problem isn't Palin, it's the man who picked her. The V.P. pick is just one of so many examples of his poor judgment. His worst performance, by far, was his abominable behavior around the Wall Street rescue plan last week. I talk about McCain's histrionics in my Current video this week (text continues below):

Clearly McCain used the financial crisis as a way to try to duck his debate with Barack Obama. Instead of contributing to a solution, he strengthened the hand of the right-wing House Republicans who ultimately scuttled the deal. He then went on with the debate, despite the lack of a deal, and disrespected Obama so publicly and appallingly that independent voters called the debate a rout for Obama.

Yesterday he returned to the Senate for his first vote since April, but unlike Obama, he didn't put his back into supporting the rescue package; he voted for it without making a statement. When Obama literally crossed the aisle to shake his hand, he all but snubbed him. Finally (well, not finally; the campaign isn't over) he defended PBS' Gwen Ifill from a Drudge-launched attack on her integrity; then he joined the attack. What a profile in courage.

So Palin isn't the problem, McCain is. But surely, Palin hasn't helped. She was supposed to bring in Clinton voters and other white, working-class supporters, but now McCain is pulling out of Michigan (a state poor old Mitt Romney might have made winnable). And the bounce McCain got from women voters right after the Palin pick was likewise short-lived. Democrats can't be complacent after the disappointments of 2000 and 2004, but McCain is shoveling an awfully deep hole for himself.

Joan Walsh

Joan Walsh is the author of "What's the Matter With White People: Finding Our Way in the Next America."

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2008 Elections