There's been a lot of talk in the media this weekend that Governor Sarah Palin's (R-AK) selection as Senator John McCain's (R-AZ) VP pick is a "game-changer". And plenty of speculation that her selection is an "act of desperation" from the McCain campaign.
I may have even called her a "game-changer" myself.
But both ideas are wrong.
McCain's playing the same game he's been playing for about the last 45 days. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) just hasn't figured out the rules yet. Since I doubt Mr. Obama reads this blog (based on my pitiful subscriber count :)), I'm probably safe in announcing the rules here.
What do you think was the point of those "celebrity" and "The One" ads? The purpose was five-fold:
- Get Media Attention. His other "issue-based" ads certainly weren't doing it. Neither were his town hall meetings. I think we can give him a big CHECK here.
- Negate Obama's biggest strength (or even turn it against him), by mocking him as more of a media figure than a politician. Another CHECK.
- Improve his standing with the base. A CHECK here, but not a big one.
- Put Obama on the defensive. Make their campaign reactionary and therefore control their message and delivery. CHECK.
- Move up in the polls. CHECK.
Krauthammer almost gets it in his editorial in the Washington Post.
McCain had been steadily gaining on Obama (before the inevitable convention bounce) and had the race in a dead heat in a year in which the generic Democrat is running ten points ahead of the generic Republican. He had succeeded in making this a referendum on Obama. The devastating line of attack was, "Is he ready to lead?"
The McCain campaign is reveling in the fact that Palin is a game changer. But why a game changer when you’ve been gaining?
Oh, you were so close. Like a bloodhound on the scent, but then you lost it.
Everything he said there is exactly right. McCain had been gaining, and doesn't need a game changer.
What's the purpose of the Palin pick? Unsurprisingly, it's five-fold:
- Get Media Attention. The celebrity ads were yesterday's news. The media wasn't talking about them anymore. Pretty soon it was going to be "all Obama, all the time" again. The Democratic National Convention was the start of that. I think we can give him a big CHECK here. The selection even took Obama's speech off the front page everywhere. Sarah Palin will continue to suck the oxygen from the Obama campaign. Probably not for the next 66 days, but for a while.
- Negate Obama's second biggest strength. How many times have you heard about how "historical" the Obama campaign is? Well, now McCain's campaign is also "historical". Some people have caught on to that, and called Palin an "affirmative action" pick, but I'm not so sure. I think after Senator Joe Biden (D-DE) was selected, it was important for McCain to pick a Governor. it's a good thing to have some executive experience on the ticket. How many Republican governors are there? 22. How many who are true conservatives? I don't know, but I'm going to guess less than 10. How many of those 10 can also accomplish #3? Probably just 1. Sarah Palin. Anyway, McCain gets a CHECK here.
- Improve his standing with the base. A huge CHECK here. The base loves her.
- Put Obama on the defensive. Make their campaign reactionary and therefore control their message and delivery. Definitely the Obama campaign was unprepared for this. Witness their ludicrous immediate attack (there's a 3 AM call ad based on that attack to be made, I think). They have to completely change how they're going to manage Biden in the debates. They have to figure out the best way to attack Palin without appearing sexist and bullying. Once again, it puts Obama off-stride. This won't last for long, but every day McCain can be "on-message" and Obama is "off-message" is a win for McCain.
- Move up in the polls. Too early to tell. Zogby says yes, and certainly it appears that Obama got no bounce from his speech, but it'll be a week or two before we fully know the answer to that. However, given the success of the first four, #5 seems pretty likely, unless Palin totally screws up on the stump. We can pencil in a CHECK, I think.
Hmm...it's the exact same 5 points.
McCain's still playing the same game. It's not an act of desperation, just the next play in the game. As long as he can keep surprising Obama, things are going to continue to get better for him.
McCain is proving himself to be a master campaigner right now. Democrats under-estimate him at their own peril. Hmm, what other Republican have Democrats consistently under-estimated? Maybe he's Bush's third term after all. ;-)
UPDATE: It's also not a "Hail Mary". That would be an act of desperation. And as Krauthammer correctly points out, there's no need for desperation on McCain's part. It is a long pass though. It's more like the long pass you throw on 2nd and 1, when you think you've caught the defense napping. And the Obama campaign was certainly napping here.