Why Did McCain Pick Palin?

Apr 22 2011 @ 4:00pm

Steve Kornacki says it wasn’t because of Trig:

Palin stood out — for reasons that had nothing to do with her new child. She was adamantly pro-life, with or without the Trig story, and her other social issue positions were all in line with the GOP base. She was avowedly Christian, further increasing her potential appeal to the base that didn’t trust John McCain. And she had — or seemed to have — the sort of “maverick” credentials that McCain was eager to stress in the fall campaign.

I don’t disagree with this, but, of course, it’s a straw man. I don’t know anyone who has said that the only or primary reason that McCain picked Palin was her child with Down Syndrome. Given the chaotic nature of the choice, all you can really say is that it was reckless and what my shrink would call “multi-determined”. But I do agree with Kornacki that one aspect to the pick was that she “was avowedly Christian, further increasing her potential appeal to the base that didn’t trust John McCain.” But surely, by far the most telling example of her Christianity – the thing that differentiated her clearly from other pro-lifers – is that she walked the walk on abortion, exemplified by the birth of Trig. And that remains true.

Why else would Palin bring her newborn into such early and excessive public exposure? Why else keep bringing him into the glare of the public eye even during a book tour? It’s perfectly possible that McCain knew this about her, liked it, but that Palin is the figure who made the most out of it – and always saw it as political gold.

And she is and was not wrong. This was not even that controversial a view in the beginning, before the “referees” established that “deference” was the appropriate role for the media in dealing with this issue. To cite a couple of early reactions. Tim Shriver:

We already know that John McCain is pro-life while Obama is pro-choice but there’s a new factor: Trig Paxson Van Palin, the infant son of the governor, who has Down syndrome. Trig could be a game changer.

George Packer:

[McCain] gambled, all right, but it was in the direction of orthodoxy—for Palin is a creature and an icon of the Republicans’ evangelical base, which came into full possession of the Party this week and completed the G.O.P.’s conversion to identity politics.

Tyler Cowen:

There is one biographical fact about Palin’s life that the critics (Drum, DeLong, Yglesias, Klein, Sullivan and Kleiman are among the ones I read) are hardly touching upon.  I mean her decision to have a Downs child instead of an abortion.  This is the fact about her life and it will be viewed as such from now through November and perhaps beyond.

Tyler was right. What matters is not what McCain believed but what Palin did. Even so, there’s no question that the McCain campaign played up the Trig angle from the get-go. They knew what they were doing. And it worked.