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 Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Steven Edwards: McCain's Palin problems make Romney look better all the time

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They say rats are the first to leave a sinking ship, and to that we might add a pit bull with lipstick and a $150,000 makeover.

Sarah Palin is in revolt, it’s reported, angry that John McCain’s handlers forced her to wear haute couture; that she’s not been able to be herself before the media; and that Republican campaign strategy -- like the decision to give up on Michigan -- is askew.

Party handlers have shot back, saying they didn’t hear a peep from her when she was being fitted for the designer clothes, and calling her a “diva.”

Anyone who watched Katie Couric’s interview with the vice-presidential candidate could see she had trouble thinking on her feet when confronted with such challenging questions as: “What magazines do you read?”

And while she may have a point about rolling over in Michigan, one of the states hardest hit by the economic downturn, it’s also one that George W. Bush never won, as well as being home to a large African-American population almost universally behind Barack Obama, dire economy or not.

On balance, the Alaska governor’s public performances have rendered her a greater boon to Tina Fey’s career than to McCain’s.

So how is it that Palin, perhaps better known across Canada’s North than in the Lower 48 states and Hawaii until a few weeks ago, can be so brazen as to challenge the man who rocketed her to the national scene?

It's all about the political makeover of the Republican Party’s new great hope.

For many senior Republicans, Obama appears sure to prevail Nov. 4 – and there may even be a serious increase in the Democratic majorities in Congress. Hence, with eyes already fixed on 2012, Palin needs to be distanced from the expected 2008 debacle.

Advice is already incoming: She should at all costs avoid running for Congress, writes Ron Bonjean, former communications director for House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert and Senate majority leader Trent Lott.

If Palin ran for the Senate, she quickly becomes part of the establishment,” he says, advising her to return to Alaska where she can remain politically active as its chief executive, yet still build on her new-found fame.

He also suggests party chiefs should surround Palin with “the brightest people,” meaning they “cannot be friends or neighbours with questionable qualifications.”

In what would mark a strategic shift in the way the party promotes its 2012 candidate, Bonjean says Palin should lead a recruitment drive among people serving in local, city and state offices who could spread the “Palin Change” message across America.

As for this election, McCain’s folly at not having picked Mitt Romney as his running mate is now all too apparent as the economy dives.

The Republican presidential candidate’s turn southward in the polls mirrored the mid-September shock to the world financial markets, which propelled the economy and its future to the number one concern of U.S. voters.

McCain’s campaign could have used the benefit of Romney’s business experience and acumen to reassure a public daily bombarded with predictions the sky is falling. Indeed, but for America’s insistence on mixing church and politics, the successful investment banker and consultant -- who also saved the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City from financial ruin and ran Massachusetts as governor -- might even have been in McCain’s place as the party nominee.

Though there are no statistics to prove Romney didn’t win because, as a Mormon, he is a member of a controversial church, the fact he had to address the issue during his campaign underlines the level of concern it raised.

How ironic that the U.S. Constitution bans mixing church and state, but religious matters thread through American politics more than they do through the politics of just about any other Western country.

The need for an economic wizard on the current ticket didn’t seem pressing when McCain was casting about for a running mate just before the financial crisis burst into the open. It appeared Palin would address other shortcomings within McCain’s campaign, like the career-long centrism that has long infuriated the party’s conservative wing, allowing him to focus on his specialty: security.

While Palin is a social conservative, Romney could have filled that void. His social values are equally anchored in conservatism, and the fact he masked them to win election in the liberal bastion of Massachusetts only attests to his astuteness in knowing how to play to all constituencies.

The McCain campaign says the Arizona senator will spend the last week before the election focusing on Obama’s statement to the Ohio journeyman “Joe the Plumber” that he believes in “spreading the wealth.” A 2001 radio interview with Obama that emerged over the weekend reveals he believes the goal can be achieved legislatively. There’ll be nothing to stop him if he wins the White House with big Congressional Democratic majorities behind him.

But while McCain is right in saying it’s an inherently un-American concept that will inhibit innovation, his ticket just doesn’t have the economic credibility to make the message sufficiently register in voters’ minds before they go to the polls.

Still uppermost in the public perception is his admission that economics is not his strong point, and his recent lurching from one economic remedy to another.

Both the party base and Palin believe they've seen the writing on the wall and are already bailing.

As former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich remarked on the state of the McCain campaign: "It's not where we should be and it's not where we had to be. This was not bad luck."

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