Palin: Likely Not Enough
by Josh Orton, Thu Sep 04, 2008 at 08:39:30 AM EDT
Last night, Sarah Palin delivered a speech full of terrible conservative policy, vicious and unfair attacks on the Democratic ticket, and gross distortions about her own record as a reformer.
But the performance was an explosion. People turned on the TV in prime-time and saw big energy. Yet there's two variables about the energy: if it'll be used and whether it will last.
First, Palin declared war on the traditional press, and that's a gamble. Remember, Republicans are the original media-haters (but for rather paranoid reasons), so this turn comes almost as reflex. Her denunciation of the "Washington elite" and the ignorance of "pollsters and pundits" echoed Howard Dean's lines from 2004 - and the media may retaliate as harshly as they did back then. Palin's not scheduled to speak to the press until at least this weekend, and that lack of accountability will infuriate reporters and increase their thirst for blood. So we may see the media actually do its job when covering Palin (pointing out her dishonestly on the "bridge to nowhere" for example), nipping her "maverick reformer" shtick in the bud. And perhaps the media won't do it for the right reasons, but we'll take what we can get.
The second variable involves what McCain's campaign does to capitalize on the energy Palin brought last night. Plouffe has long touted the "enthusiasm gap" as one of Obama's biggest assets - harnessing energy among supporters into ground organizing advantages. And with big party registration disparities, it's an advantage with dividends for Democrats. Palin, now, will pull huge crowds and money wherever she goes. Ambinder says it'll be Palin's September. McCain's two-fold challenge is using the new enthusiasm: he needs to get base supporters whipped-up enough to go out and work for him, but he also needs to energize people outside his universe to make up for the disparity in party population. Can he appeal to independents? Women? Or middle-income people in Michigan or Colorado who lean Obama but might take a second look at McCain if the reformer image sticks and they feel the media has treated Palin unfairly?
It's unlikely. This late in the game there's not much time for McCain to organize significantly outside his established base - and it'll take more than knocking a few leaners off the fence for him to win PA, OH, and MI.
In the end, if the media really deconstructs Palin properly, McCain will find himself with a whipped-up, activated, and energetic base that's significantly smaller than Bush's in 2004 and insufficient to carry him to 270 electoral votes.