Would Lieberman Have Been Better As McCain's VP Pick?

Yesterday I attended a conference co-sponsored by Politico that featured panels chock full of advisors and consultants from both campaigns as well as several journalists to sort of deconstruct the election. One of the more interesting topics that came up time and again was whether Joe Lieberman would have been a better choice for McCain's VP -- better meaning more likely to have helped McCain win than Sarah Palin did.

The most interesting thing about the debate over this question was the difference in opinion that existed between the Obama camp and the McCain camp. In general, both sides agreed on what the turning points of the election were and what factors led to Obama's victory. But on this point, the McCain folks were intractable: Sarah Palin was the best choice for them at the time.

Was this simple spin -- the refusal to concede what is in retrospect conventional wisdom, that Palin was a disaster for McCain, or was it a sincere analysis of the strategy at the time? I think a little bit of both.

Here's pretty much how the argument went:

Steve Hildebrand, Obama's Deputy Campaign Manager: If McCain had chosen Lieberman or another Democrat, it would have taken away Barack's "post partisan" thing and would have reinforced McCain's maverick thing.

Adam Mendolsohn, GOP consultant: In mid to late August the race was so close, they needed to pick someone who would not collapse the Republican base.

Hildebrand: In the general election you need to forget about your base, they'll be with you, you need to go after moderates and independents.

Mendolsohn: I don't think it's as easy to say the base would have been there. There was a lot of discussion with folks who understand the base and how the convention works and what a Lieberman pick would mean and they were very concerned. They were saying "this will be a huge disaster." In 1992,a large part of the base stayed home. Sarah Palin was a strong solid logical pick for the base.

Mike DuHaime, McCain Political Director: Our hope with Governor Palin going forward was that there would be a connection to moderate women and independents and there was after the convention. She did appeal to working women as well as the base. Ultimately that did not carry all the way through election day but it was not initially just a base pick.

The McCain side insisted that no one else would have given them the bump they received out of the convention and the fundraising spike, without which they would not have been competitive. This financial advantage that Obama had was particularly problematic for them in the immediate aftermath of the Palin announcement when it became evident that "Obama could do 5 things at once, we could do 1" and they allowed Obama to portray Palin as an extreme right winger.

The McCain team were clearly going out of their way to defend the choice and not throw Palin or McCain under the bus and that's fine. I actually think their reasoning versus a Lieberman pick is sound. Lieberman would have been a disaster for them for different reasons. But what they laughably failed to acknowledge on that stage yesterday was just how devastating the pick itself was to McCain's viability. Once it became evident just how unprepared Palin was for top office, as Mike Allen said during a later panel yesterday, the Palin choice helped make John McCain the risky one, which gets to the heart of why McCain lost on Nov. 4th. As Obama pollster David Binder put it, ultimately:

The risk of the unknown with Obama was less than the risk of the known with McCain.

Tags: Election 2008, Joe Lieberman, Politico, Sarah Palin (all tags)

Comments

17 Comments

Republicans Were Doomed In this Election

Once the stock market crashed and the economy began collapsing, McCain was doomed. No vice presidential choice would have saved McCain. Only a major gaffe by Obama would have given McCain a chance, and given the temperment of Obama, a major Obama gaffe was unlikely. Moreover, in this political climate, a gaffe may have actually helped Obama by making him look more human.

by Zzyzzy 2008-11-22 08:06AM | 0 recs
Spot-on! n/t

by bobswern 2008-11-22 08:37AM | 0 recs
Re: Republicans Were Doomed In this Election

Thank you,

The incumbent party never wins in a recession unless there is a significant war going on. With Iraq fading from the top issue McCain was doomed to loose.

All of this second guessing is pointless. The only real contest this year was Hillary v. Obama.

by dMarx 2008-11-22 11:28AM | 0 recs
Re: Would Lieberman Have Been Better

I agree, Lieberfuck would have been a really bad pick for them, because their base, was still quite excited about her--there was very little base apathy on the GOP side--McCain pretty much all of what Bush got re: the fundamentalist and movement base. Palin solidified that for McCain but caused the independents to not consider him from that point on, leading to Obama as a safe choice in comparison.

So one pick held the base but lost the rest, and the other pick would have been quite disastrous for the base with not enough movement in the middle to make it up.

McCain should have simply gone with someone like Pawlenty as they had planned: a boring, safe choice that would not have caused him any base enthusiasm like Palin, and not have caused such a drastic rejection by the independents. Might not have been enough to put him over the top anyway--Obama was simply gonna win in this environment, but it might still have been a 3 point race instead of 7.

McCain lost complete control over his message when he picked Palin, something that might not have happened with Pawlenty.

by need some wood 2008-11-22 08:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Would Lieberman Have Been Better

McCrap was screwed -- BUSH, major recession, war in its 6th year, unemployment the highest since before WWII. The Republicraps were lucky they aren't down to 10 seats in Congress...No way would they support a Jewish Liberal for VP (no offense meant to  Jewish people either but those Bible thumping evangelicals run the rightwingnut of the Repubs)..did you see the Republican conventions and rallies--old white guys and overweight farmers--funny how they now own all the BASKETCASE states--i.e. Mississippi, Missouri, Alabama, Tennessee,etc. where there is no hispanics, no blacks, lots of white and corporate  welfare, and NO GROWTH of opportunity.

by hddun2008 2008-11-22 05:52PM | 0 recs
Re: Would Lieberman Have Been Better

Well, the scenario is who would have helped McCain in the financial meltdown the best?  Maybe it would have been Lieberman, but I would guess that it wouldn't have, nor would have Romney. McCain would have had to gamble and oppose the bailout, as a wildcard chance, otherwise he was going to lose regardless.

by Jerome Armstrong 2008-11-22 08:13AM | 0 recs
i'm at a loss to understand...

who would have helped republicans in a crashing economy.  given the complete lack of attention this administration has given to the economy, they didn't have a trusted economic leader to go with.  romney didn't have a massachusetts miracle, or whatever to lean on.  part of the reason the market got so volatile this fall was because the gop simply has no one the market trusts.  mccain needed this election to be about iraq and nothing else...

by bored now 2008-11-22 08:46AM | 0 recs
All the political analysis in the world...

...means little with regard to the 2008 Presidential Election if the reality of the U.S. economy "officially" collapsing in September isn't taken into account as the overriding factor in the Democratic Party's victory this cycle.

I'm certain that, historically speaking, everything else--including Vice Presidential choices which are historically unimportant in the eventual outcome--will take a very, very distant backseat to both the underlying and obvious reasons why our party won this cycle.

I would even go as far as to say that everything else that's discussed as affecting the outcome is almost nothing short of mental masturbation.

We're all way too close to the ground, and it's way too soon after the election to maintain any sense of objectivity about this.

There's my two cents, FWIW.

by bobswern 2008-11-22 08:29AM | 0 recs
No

I'm a progressive Dem so this matters to me not a bit, but Lieberman would have been a terrible choice for the Reptiles.

1. far from energizing it, Lieberman would have alienated the SoCon base.
2. Lieberman's a terrible campaigner.
3. McCain's draw is already the moderate middle.

On the other hand, Palin energized their base, not enough to win, but enough to avoid humiliation. By far their best choice would have been Huckabee who would have brought Palin like energy to the base without giving the center the willies. Anyways, if you want to know how much Lieberman can energize a ticket, just ask Al Gore.

There, having done my bit of Republican strategizing, I think I need to take a shower.

by CSears 2008-11-22 08:51AM | 0 recs
Absolutely Not.

Something I wrote on this a few days ago, somewhere else:

I've been doing graphs and figures for a week now on this, and I can honestly say: it would have been an astonishingly bad idea.

In the 108th Congress (admittedly while he was running for President), Lieberman was ranked more liberal than Biden. (Voteview). In the 110th Congress (the one just ending), he voted with Democrats 86.9% of the time. (Washington Post). That's more often than Evan Bayh, one of Obama's top veep choices. That's about equivalent to Thad Cochran -- can anyone imagine Obama picking HIM to be on his ticket?

In 2001, the height of his apostasy, McCain got a score of 40 from ADA. In 2007, the height of his apostasy, Lieberman got 70. Lieberman routinely gets 100 scores from Right to Choice interest groups; McCain has a solidly pro-life record. McCain has a lifetime score of 82 from the American Conservative Union. Lieberman? 16.4. (Lower than Evan Bayh -- again, the guy who for about the week seemed to be Obama's pick)

They agree on the war. They agree on nothing else. The Republican Convention would be chaotic; someone like Thad Cochran or Rick Santorum, with nothing to lose, would challenge Lieberman from the floor and pick up hundreds of delegate votes. By the second week, Lieberman's forced recantation of every position on economic and social issues he's ever held would become a national joke. By the third week, the social conservative wing of the party would bring down all hell and brimstone on the ticket. By the fourth week, Georgia would be a toss-up, because of widespread alienation from white evangelicals. By October, Texas would be in play.

A McCain-Lieberman ticket would be an unmitigated disaster.

by BlackMage 2008-11-22 11:19AM | 0 recs
Would Lieberman Have Been Better VP Pick?

Is sort of like asking:

"Would the Titanic have sunk slower if it was carrying balloons instead of people?"

Maybe, but in the end, it's down at the bottom of the ocean no matter what.

by PhilFR 2008-11-22 11:50AM | 0 recs
Re: Would Lieberman

It would have been a better choice only in the sense that Palin' cost him votes, so anyone who is not a negative is "better".  

However, it would not have been enough.  Lieberman doesn't have a base anymore among Dems, Indys, or Reps.  Where does he bring in votes from?

by NJIndependent 2008-11-22 12:43PM | 0 recs
Re: Would Lieberman

Yep, if you look at the freeper sites that cheered lieberman in recent months, they did so only because he was a useful tool to embarass us. But once his usefulness subsided, they went back to making fun of him.

by Pravin 2008-11-22 03:49PM | 0 recs
Bobby Jindal was the no brainer alternative

From what I hear, he was offered the chance to consider it. But Jindal never seemed that interested. Jindal was smart enough to know that this was the wrong time.

Jindal has Palin's religious lunatic credentials while adding actual intelligence to the ticket. he is no dummy like Palin. Plus he brings in the diversity appeal. The only negative for him is that he is not as charismatic as Palin with the redneck crowd though Jindal has his own ways of pandering.

by Pravin 2008-11-22 03:51PM | 0 recs
Yes, then we could have really thrown him out

by ann0nymous 2008-11-22 04:26PM | 0 recs
Re: Yes, then we could have really thrown him out

Reid would have forgiven him, anyway. Maybe, just maybe, if Joe pulls out a pistol and starts shooting at Obama during an address to Congress, he might be thrown out of the caucus. But I still think that even then, Reid would say,"Joe was under a lot of strain and didn't realize what he was doing. We should be compassionate and not vengeful. "

by antiHyde 2008-11-22 04:35PM | 0 recs
Re: Would Lieberman Have Been Better As McCain's V

Wouldn't Kay Bailey Hutchinson have had a better chance at reaching moderate independent women? And wouldn't the bas have accepted her?

No, the choice of Palin was a calculated strategy to bring out every religious bigot in America. A stupid strategy, because they already had those votes locked just by Obama's skin.

by antiHyde 2008-11-22 04:38PM | 0 recs

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