How the McCain Camp Came to Pick Palin
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Editor's note: This is the second piece that we have run about the upcoming NYT mag article, you can find the first piece here.
The NY Times magazine has a fascinating feature about the McCain campaign in this week-end's edition. The inside look at the Palin choice is really interesting. Republicans have become so enraptured by their hype about "marketing" and "branding" that they've forgotten that you need to have something in the package you're selling besides air:
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 -- 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 Christ (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? McInturff's polling data suggested that none of these candidates brought significantly more to the ticket than any other.
"What about Sarah Palin?" Schmidt asked.
After that first brief meeting, Davis remained in discreet but frequent contact with Palin and her staff -- gathering tapes of speeches and interviews, as he was doing with all potential vice-presidential candidates. One tape in particular struck Davis as arresting: an interview with Palin and Gov. Janet Napolitano, the Arizona Democrat, on "The Charlie Rose Show" that was shown in October 2007. Reviewing the tape, it didn't concern Davis that Palin seemed out of her depth on health-care issues or that, when asked to name her favorite candidate among the Republican field, she said, "I'm undecided." What he liked was how she stuck to her pet issues -- energy independence and ethics reform -- and thereby refused to let Rose manage the interview. This was the case throughout all of the Palin footage. Consistency. Confidence. And . . . well, look at her. A friend had said to Davis: "The way you pick a vice president is, you get a frame of Time magazine, and you put the pictures of the people in that frame. You look at who fits that frame best -- that's your V. P."
After McCain's speech brought the convention to a close, one of the campaign's senior advisers stayed up late at the Hilton bar savoring the triumphant narrative arc. I asked him a rather basic question: "Leaving aside her actual experience, do you know how informed Governor Palin is about the issues of the day?"
The senior adviser thought for a moment. Then he looked up from his beer. "No," he said quietly. "I don't know."
This is where Karl Rove's politics hit the wall.