by Todd Beeton, Sat Nov 22, 2008 at 07:48:29 AM EST
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.