Almost from the moment that Sarah Palin was selected by John McCain as his running mate in 2008 and I saw how the crazies in the party seized upon her as one of them, I warned that this was a turning point for the Republican party and that McCain would bear the responsibility for creating a monster that would threaten to devour the party. As I wrote back in September 3, 2008:
I think that this decision is going to haunt McCain. His and her ardent supporters are trying to put on a good face and saying that this move is a ‘game changer’. I think they are right but not in a good way for him. It risks changing a narrow race into a blowout victory for Obama.
And so it proved. Shortly after the 2008 election, I wrote that by selecting Palin, McCain had opened a Pandora’s box that he would regret.
But in many ways, McCain’s choice of Palin will do a lot more harm to the Republicans that Lieberman did to the Democrats, even though the latter actually campaigned against the Democratic candidate and provided cover for some of the most despicable allegations made against Obama. In the end, Lieberman represents just himself, a voting bloc of one, and will eventually disappear, most likely losing his next senatorial election in 2012.
But Palin does represent a large constituency that will not go away even in the event that she does, and this group has been newly energized by the Palin selection and their claim to power is what is going to cause problems.
McCain belongs more to the old-style conservative Republican wing of the party, does not seem particularly religious or enamored of the religion-based agenda of the social values bloc, and he probably saw that bloc in the subservient role it has traditionally played, which is to mainly turn up on election day. It is very likely that when McCain selected Palin, he saw her as bringing female and outsider and youth and energy credentials to the ticket, nothing more.
I think it is now obvious that the vetting of Palin prior to her selection to be McCain’s running mate was cursory to the point of being almost non-existent. I am almost certain that he did not realize that the elevation of Palin would open a Pandora’s box of expectations of the social values bloc of his party and did not anticipate the outpouring of religious fervor that would accompany her selection. For the first time, the religious base has had one of them be part of the top leadership. Now that they have got so close to the driver’s seat, they are not going to return to the back of the bus. I think they will insist on a true believer as the next leader of the party.
This is where the battle lines are going to be drawn within the Republican party. What is happening now is that the culture wars that were used in the fights against Democrats is becoming a weapon to be used within the Republican Party, to determine who the ‘real Republicans’ are. The Southern strategy tactics of dividing the country on cultural issues that worked so well for the Republicans on the national level for nearly four decades, has now suddenly turned in on itself and is being used to divide up the party internally in order to see who will lead it and in what direction it will go.
Now Steve Schmidt, McCain’s campaign manager seems to realize the gravity of what he has done, saying that he regrets creating a “freak show” wing of the party by pushing for Palin. He says that the party should stand up to the “asininity” that she and others represent.
Good luck with that, Steve. You can draw a straight line from Palin through the Tea Party to Ted Cruz. The only question is whether that line turns around, stops there, or goes right towards the cliff.
My bet is on the last one until the party gets a major shellacking.
This short scene from the film Game Change with Schmidt (played by Woody Harrelson) and Palin (Julianne More) captures the dynamic at play.