And the hits just keep on comin’.
Mitt Romney got backhanded by yet another Republican colleague Tuesday when John McCain denied rumors that he passed over Romney for the ticket in 2008 because of tax improprieties discovered in the vetting process. Rather, McCain assured Politico, his team went with Sarah Palin because she was “a better candidate.”
Oof. Whatever the senator’s intent (certainly there’s no love lost between him and Mittens), talk about handing a bat to Romney’s detractors and stapling a “Swing Here” sign to the guy’s face.
McCain’s remark came at a particularly awkward moment for Romney, given how much of the political world was already buzzing about Palin’s revelation in the current Newsweek that she has yet to receive an invitation to the Republican love-in in Tampa next month. As she coyly observed, “one must remember this isn’t Sadie Hawkins and you don’t invite yourself and a date to the Big Dance.”
So here we have the GOP’s previous nominee inadvertently (or not) dissing the party’s current nominee by comparing him unflatteringly with a woman considered so toxic by the party establishment that she cannot even score an invite to its nominating convention—a convention, btw, that she indisputably ruled last time around.
No wonder Team Obama has a spring in its step these days.
Palin’s perceived snubbing touched off a wave of debate about the pros and cons of having her speak in Tampa. The potential downsides aren’t hard to grasp: The mouthy Alaskan is, shall we say, a bit of a wild card, and she has displayed about as much genuine affection for Romney as for the party establishment she so loves to gig.
That said, it’s time for Romney to man up, pick up the phone, and ask Palin to the dance. Risks aside, he needs her charisma. He needs her ability to rev up the base. Coming at it from a different direction, the man—already being accused of wimpiness by his own party—cannot afford to look like he’s too chicken-shit to let the original Mama Grizzly up on that stage.
Seriously. If Obama could give Hillary a prime speaking spot in ’08, with packs of embittered PUMAs (remember them?) gnashing their teeth and threatening to disrupt the entire convention, Romney can extend a hand to La Sarah.
To be sure, Republican poobahs are anxious not to alienate independent voters this time around, and Palin can be off-putting for voters not quite so far down at the right end of the spectrum. But really, is she any more off-putting than Herman Cain? Newt Gingrich? Rick Perry? Ron Paul? Rick Santorum? Michele Bachmann? Is the party planning to bar the convention doors to everyone who tried to run to Romney’s right this cycle? Seems unlikely. So why pick on poor Sarah—who stayed out of the fray and who, for all her flaws, packs more star power than any of the aforementioned also-rans?
However this convention mini-drama plays itself out, the Republican elite would do well to stop treating Palin as though she is some dark force that robbed them of the win in ’08. Especially now, with Romney’s veep pick looming and everyone chattering about how the oh-so-cautious governor is determined not to repeat McCain’s running-mate debacle, you get the sense that the GOP has forgotten exactly how Palin wound up on the ticket: namely, their nominee was going nowhere, and his campaign was desperate for (to borrow a phrase) a Game Changer. Palin was Team McCain’s Hail Mary pass. Its shot of adrenaline. Its 100-megawatt jolt of electricity.
Initially, that jolt seemed to offer life to an otherwise moribund campaign. Sure, it ultimately wound up feeling more like a cattle prod to the campaign’s crotch. But then, as now, Palin was merely a symptom of the GOP’s ongoing identity crisis, the establishment’s quest to appease the activist base. And now, as then, scapegoating her isn’t going to resolve any of the party’s internal struggles or contradictions.