Senator John McCain is in ailing health recovering from surgery in Arizona. As a result of his circumstances and knowing that he’s nearing the end stage of life, McCain has become more candid with his thoughts on politics and his experience running for President in 2008. One of the pivotal decisions from the 2008 campaign was his choice to select Sarah Palin, the then-unknown Governor of Alaska as his Vice Presidential running mate.
Report from The Hill:
The New York Times reported on Saturday that McCain, while still defending Palin’s performance, said in his upcoming book, “The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and other Appreciations,” that he wishes he had instead selected former Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.)
His advisers reportedly had warned against choosing Lieberman, who was once a Democrat, stating that Lieberman’s support of abortion rights could divide Republicans.
“It was sound advice that I could reason for myself,” he writes. “But my gut told me to ignore it and I wish I had.”
In a new HBO documentary, McCain goes on to say that not choosing Lieberman was “another mistake” that he made in his political career.
McCain’s campaign was flailing in the summer of 2008, running way behind the campaign of Barack Obama. McCain needed something to stir the pot and make a splash in media with the intention of waking up the conservative base to somehow get excited about voting for him. After much debate over the subject, McCain chose Gov. Sarah Palin, which certainly created an uproar. The decision was a gamble since Palin was entirely unknown on the national stage. As a political newcomer, how would she handle the national spotlight? Would she rise to the occasion, or crumble under the stress?
Given that Palin’s political views were certainly to the right of McCain, the conservative base was generally pleased with the pick. The beltway Republican class, however, was distraught over the choice since Palin was much more comparable to Donald Trump than she was, for example, to someone like Condoleeza Rice in terms of a polished pedigree or political parlance.
McCain’s campaign was probably destined for failure regardless of who he selected. After 8 years of George W. Bush, the Republican brand was hurting. To make matters worse for Republicans, Democrats had nominated the first African-American nominee which, in itself, created a larger splash simply in historical value than anything McCain could have done.
If McCain had selected Lieberman, he would have been in a similar predicament with conservatives abandoning him. McCain has always embraced the “maverick” label, someone who often floats in the middle on issues, never afraid to buck his party and vote with Democrats on any particular bill. That label was already weighing him down within some GOP factions, adding a Democrat-leaning independent to the ticket would’ve exacerbated that.
Palin was chosen to “balance the ticket,” and provide some conservative credentials against McCain’s moderate voting record. It didn’t pan out in terms of the general election. She was ridiculed endlessly in pop culture media for her quirky personality and poor answers to basic interview questions, never able to break though to suburban moms the way the campaign had intended.
Palin did go on to become a star of the Tea Party movement and a Fox News contributor for many years. She also published a couple books and made a career out of her time spent in the national spotlight with McCain. In fact, Palin has continued to be loyal to McCain, including 4 four years ago when she backed him in a Senate primary:
Under attack by the Republican Party in his home state, Sen. John McCain is getting some support from someone beloved by conservatives – his former running mate, Sarah Palin.
“I consider Senator John McCain an American hero and a friend. He fights to remind our President that the federal government’s first priority must be strong defense of our homeland,” wrote Palin Monday night on her Facebook page, adding that “he fights against big-spending colleagues who don’t prioritize for our military’s needs.”
Looking back now, I can surmise that McCain knew his campaign was in trouble and had a very tall hill to climb. I imagine he’s now thinking that he would have simply preferred to climb that hill with his friend Joe, rather than the newcomer named Sarah. He probably would have still lost in the end, but at least he would’ve had familiar company along the way.