David Rogers: McCain could learn a thing or two from Palin

David Rogers

A HOLIDAY INN SOMEWHERE IN OHIO – “Hey, Sarah, what are you doing here? I thought you were stumping in Iowa today?

“Hi John. Well, I thought it’d be more effective for my, I mean, our campaign, speaking about Joe the Plumber or Tito the Builder in a state where we can actually win. 

“Well, didn’t you get the memo from my advisors that I needed you campaigning in Davenport? We’re only down by 12 there?

“I, uh, well, one of your aides brought something that could’ve been a memo to the back of the plane, but I, uh, never, uh, got it.”

OK, I admit it. I made up the conversation between John McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin. But while the encounter was fake, the tenure and disconnect between them is sadly, pretty accurate, if you believe the aides, operatives and supporters who’ve been anonymously criticizing each other the last few days. 

Folks in the McCain camp have been saying Palin has gone off message and is more interested in preserving her chances for the 2012 presidential election. The terms they’ve used have been eye-opening: “diva,” “rogue” and “not listening.”

The Palin camp has struck back, saying the McCain folks botched her rollout to the public by essentially banning her from the media until two disastrous interviews with Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson. Now that she’s had a few more interviews, some scripted and some off the cuff (or off the tarmac), she’s shown to be more than competent.

Palin has bucked her handlers on several occasions the past couple of weeks. One of the first incidents was when she gently chided the McCain campaign from pulling its resources out of Michigan. Another was her sideways criticism of the use of robocalls. But perhaps the most telling example was Palin’s decision last weekend to explain her role in what has become known as “Wardrobe-gate” to a crowd of supporters in Tampa.

Word has it that the McCain camp wasn’t thrilled that she revisited what had become a very embarrassing revelation, thus assuring that it would be part of the news cycle for one more day.

McCain has no one to blame for this mess but himself. He rolled the dice with his out-of-nowhere pick of Palin as his running mate, and now he’s paying the price. Faced with a moribund campaign in need of a quick dose of excitement, he and his advisors asked the virtually unknown governor of Alaska to be his running mate without fully vetting her.

The lack of a thorough vetting was most evident in those early television interviews, where she showed a dramatic lack of intellectual depth and understanding about international events and basic fundamentals of national affairs. But what’s become apparent these last few weeks is that the McCain campaign didn’t fully realize her ambition. Now they’re paying the price, as it’s become clear to many that she doesn’t think McCain will win the election and that preparing herself for 2012 was the smart thing to do.

Through her stump speeches and increasing public appearances, Palin has become a hero to the most conservative elements of the Republican party. From her stance on abortion to her bias toward small-town America, to her willingness to attack Barack Obama, she has fed a lot of red meat to the Weekly Standard and National Review crowd. Like her or hate her, it’s hard not to be impressed with her willingness to take a punch and stick to her guns when promoting her views. Yes, her approval ratings have gone in the tank since her introduction in late August. But it’s become clear that she has unwavering confidence in herself and dogged perseverance.

Those were personality traits found in the John McCain of 2000. It was those qualities that made him popular with the media and with fiscally conservative Democrats (such as myself). But since McCain won his party’s nomination, if not beforehand, the McCain of 2000 has been missing. Instead, the Arizona senator and his campaign officials have veered from tactic to tactic and position to position almost on a weekly schedule. It’s as if he’s lost control of his own candidacy and is - forgive the reference - a prisoner of his environment.

If only McCain had brought the same consistent tenacity of his running mate to his campaign, perhaps he’d be in a better place to win. But with less than a week to go, it’s becoming more likely by the hour that he’s going to fall short to Obama and join that long list of Arizonians who ran for president but failed.

David Rogers is the editor of the Tri-Town Transcript in Boxford, Mass. E-mail him at: