At the risk of upsetting some conservatives, let me tell you why I believe McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin was a poor choice. Although she did motivate and excite the party base, it was only a momentary blip rather than a long term movement. It was just too obvious that McCain picked her not because of her expertise and leadership, but because he was trying to court Hillary’s female voters. It was a strategic and desperate risk, and people saw it for the pandering it really was.
There’s no question that Sarah has charisma, she’s good on camera, and she connects with an audience. She was brutalized unfairly in the media, but welcome to conservative land. More important - she was simply not ready. In order to shore up McCain’s dying bid, I’m afraid he pulled her out before she was really ready, and I think it will hurt her – and the GOP - in the long term.
As I say in my book “Branding Faith,” the public is very unforgiving. If you make a strategic mistake – particularly when it comes to trust – it’s very tough to win back the support of your audience. That’s why I’m skeptical that even with years to grow and learn, it will be tough to come back.
And perhaps more important – in picking Sarah Palin – the Republican Party threw all their eggs in the “regular guy” basket. The GOP has built a long term strategy based on criticizing the “elites” and intellectuals, and trying to identify with the regular guy on the street. Gaining the support of Middle Class America is good, but the truth is, elites and intellectuals matter. The brain trust of this country is important, and we need to find and develop the conservative elites – the men and women who can articulate why conservatives believe what they believe, and what our vision for the future should be.
Joe the plumber is not that guy.
In order to re-brand the GOP, we need to stop marginalizing the smart guys in the room, and start mentoring and developing the next generation of conservative intellectuals. We need a philosophical well to draw from and to base our policy. Where’s the William F. Buckley of this generation? Where are the men and women who can express the conservative vision, and lead a new generation?
Sarah Palin has guts, charisma, and courage. But you can’t expect the American people to stand behind someone who makes us worry every time she’s interviewed on national TV. Will she make a mistake? Will she look foolish?
Had McCain made a better choice this time around, Sarah would have had more time to develop, grow, and season. Then, she might have been a more formidable candidate for the future. But after 6 months of ridicule on national TV – some of it with good reason - it will be tough to regain America’s confidence.
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