Several months ago, I asked many Republicans if Sen. John McCain could win the election without the support of the party’s base.
After all, the base — social conservatives, small-government types and foreign-policy hawks — handed George W. Bush two terms in the White House. Social conservatives, in particular, moved heaven and earth to register new voters and push for a high Republican turnout.
When McCain won the Republican nomination, many within the GOP’s conservative base grumbled that they would support him but they quickly added that their support would be tepid because they don’t really consider McCain to be one of them.
Then came Sarah Palin. The self-described hockey mom/pit bull pumped new life into the base the moment she stepped on to the stage at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn., to accept her party’s nomination as vice-president. Since then, she’s drawn thousands to her rallies and has stoked the base’s anger at Sen. Barack Obama by accusing him of hanging out with an unrepentant terrorist and questioning his patriotism and ability to be commander in chief.
But it seems her presence on the campaign trail has undercut McCain’s appeal among independents. Conservative columnists George Will and David Brooks both complain that she is an anchor holding down the McCain ticket down and that her rhetoric has begun to turn away many of the independents and former supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton whom McCain was poised to bring into the GOP camp.
To be fair, McCain was in an impossible position. He needed the full-throated support of the base behind the ticket. And there’s no question he will have it on election day.
But did he really need to reach out to conservatives with someone like Palin?
The base would have voted for McCain anyway, hating themselves for doing so no doubt. White evangelicals would not have been in a mad rush to support Sen. Barack Obama.
The base aside, Palin’s potential upside has not come to pass. She has not shown any ability to draw independent women to the Republican cause.
As the race gets even nastier in these last weeks, one has to wonder what would have happened had McCain chosen his friend and first choice, the pseudo-Democrat Sen. Joe Lieberman. He might have lost parts of his base, but he would have gained so much more.