The choice of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin last week by Republican presidential candidate John McCain has been explained in the media as a “game-changer,” “bold,” “daring,” and in keeping with the Arizona senator’s “maverick” image.
But here’s what the decision means for across-the-board conservatives: vital.
Before McCain’s decision many on the Right (including myself) were alternately ambivalent, disaffected, or outright opposed to the idea of voting for him. After years of nose-thumbing acts by the GOP candidate towards many of his party’s colleagues and its base, the temptation for conservatives to register a protest vote (most likely Libertarian Bob Barr) — or not showing up at all — was strong.
However, the Palin pick has overturned the apathy towards McCain, in one swell foop (I’ve always wanted to write that!), into a Republican ticket that is critical for conservatives to support.
Why? Because as Fred Barnes wrote in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend, “should the McCain-Palin ticket win the election, it will produce a huge change in the party itself. Mrs. Palin would become first in the line of succession to become the next Republican presidential nominee and would usher in a new generation of leaders.”
That cannot be underestimated. The choice of the Alaskan governor could mean, finally, the elevation of the Tom Coburn/Jim DeMint/John Shadegg reform element of the party over the Ted Stevens/Duke Cunningham/Jerry Lewis old guard.
But more importantly, it could restore to the GOP the principled and inspired conservatism that has been absent from the two top spots since Ronald Reagan left office in 1989. Recall the last 20 years and sigh: Bush/Quayle, Dole/Kemp, and Bush/Cheney. President George H.W. Bush squandered his inheritance and was never in the Reagan mold. Sen. Robert Dole was the “it’s his turn” establishment candidate that did not enthuse. And our current president was not the conservative that his early anointers pretended he was.
So the McCain/Palin ticket — dead even with Obama/Biden, who enjoyed no Democratic convention bump — holds the most promise in years for delivering the Right from the wilderness. It may not pay immediate dividends in a McCain presidency, but Palin could represent the beginning of a conservative restoration for a long time.
Of course, how it all pans out remains to be seen. McCain’s pandering plays to liberals (including the media) could rub off on Palin instead of the other way around. But her record so far shows that she has taken on entrenched Republicans who have lost their way — the good (unlike much of McCain’s) kind of reform that the Right longs for.
Adherents to conservative principles would play a large role here, despite McCain’s reputation for stubbornness. If the base, including energized social conservatives, turn out in force for this year’s GOP ticket, then they’d have at least have the credibility to remind the him of that and that they should have a voice. How about this for a challenge to a President McCain: “Listen to your (political) wife!”
Of course, many who are inclined to support McCain/Palin have not achieved complete comfort with her. Much is still unknown about her, and questions about her judgment, her background, and whether she lives as she talks will be examined. Democrats and liberal bloggers will make sure every question about her gets scrutinized. While the news of her 17-year-old daughter’s pregnancy does not undermine Palin’s legitimacy as a candidate, an absence of any more surprises would help. The 60-or-so days left in the campaign are plenty enough time for voters to decide whether she passes muster.
Assuming she does, it will then be not only helpful, but necessary for conservatives to get behind the ticket. Palin represents their views across the spectrum, even if McCain doesn’t always. Her profile has been elevated higher and faster than anyone in the base could have hoped, and promoting pro-life, limited-government, and freedom-loving principles in such a dynamic package is an incredible opportunity that cannot be allowed to slip away.