Thirteen months ago, John McCain’s presidential campaign wheezed into New Hampshire on life support. The candidate was forced to travel on commercial flights and carry his own luggage. His staff slashed dramatically, McCain sometimes relied on individual supporters to provide transportation to and from events. Despite the adversity, McCain shook up the race by eking out a victory in the Granite State after weeks of grindstone campaigning on a “no surrender” platform. This alarmed some conservatives who bitterly opposed his positions on a number of key issues. Yet Mitt Romney never managed to beat the Arizona senator in the clutch, and McCain ran away with the nomination. It was a remarkable political comeback story.
The party’s conservative base, however, continued to grumble about McCain’s triumph, with some vowing to stay home in November. Today—in what may amount to an even more remarkable reversal of fortune than McCain’s primary resurgence—that same base is turning out in record numbers to attend McCain rallies, enthusiastically chanting his name, and mobilizing at the grassroots level to ensure an election day win. The reason: Governor Sarah Palin. Just a few weeks ago, many conservatives begrudgingly committed to voting for McCain as the only credible alternative to the horrors of an Obama presidency. Now they’re rallying to his cause with vigor and excitement. If McCain wins, political analysts will write about his pair of shocking turnarounds for years to come.
Prior to the gutsy Palin selection, McCain’s short list of vice presidential running mates was analyzed to death: Lieberman and Ridge would outrage pro-lifers and social conservatives. Huckabee might give fiscal hawks indigestion. Romney could help in some states, but did McCain really feel comfortable with him? Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota appeared to be the one safe choice. But McCain has never been about safe choices. Rather than following the conventional wisdom, the candidate whose indignation over the infamous “bridge to nowhere” helped propel him to the nomination boldly chose a running mate who builds a bridge to the future for the GOP. In Sarah Palin, we’ve been given a glimpse at the future of the Republican Party; it’s pro-life, pro-growth, anti-waste, tax-cutting, and dogged in its defense of American security.
What’s truly stunning is that John McCain is the man responsible for this conservative inspiration injection. It’s nothing short of a talk radio miracle that Rush Limbaugh—well known for his hostility toward the Republican nominee—is now affectionately referring to him as “John McBrilliant.” Instead of facing a best-case scenario of staving off the Obama bandwagon for four years, conservatives are now buzzing about a new, bright future for the party as a whole. As the Left tries to tie the GOP brand to President Bush and Vice President Cheney, the Right is looking ahead to fresh faces like Palin, Bobby Jindal, and Eric Cantor. All are young, principled, reform-minded conservatives whom liberals fear. The most compelling evidence of this fear is the personal nature of the attacks being leveled against all three.
A 24/7 smear machine has been churning out vicious rumors and innuendo about Governor Palin ever since her selection. Most of this rubbish has been refuted within hours of initial publication. While Sen. Obama, to his credit, has mostly eschewed the personal sniping, he has decided to challenge Palin’s veracity on her opposition to the bridge-to-nowhere boondoggle. Yes, Palin initially supported the project, but after she was elected governor, it morphed into a bloated, big-government embarrassment. She killed it, and John McCain applauded. If any doubts remain about Palin’s role in the bridge bust, a page on the Alaskan Democratic Party website has just recently been magically scrubbed of all references to Palin axing the Gravina Island project. Case closed.
Why Obama insists on raising this particular subject remains a mystery. After all, he and his running mate both voted for the nine-figure monstrosity. Twice. Obama-Biden even voted to fund the unnecessary bridge while opposing Sen. Tom Coburn’s proposed redirection of those dollars to subsidize Katrina relief efforts. Obama himself has requested approximately $1 million in earmark spending for every single day he’s spent in the US Senate—including a million-dollar hand out to his wife’s employer. Considering his own record, no wonder Obama’s allies have been reduced to spinning insane theories about the Palins’ family life.
Governor Bobby Jindal is draining the festering swamp that has characterized Louisiana politics for years. He’s begun to implement a number of governmental reforms and responded to the will of Louisianans by vetoing a wildly unpopular pay-raise for state legislators. As Hurricane Gustov approached the gulf coast —leading to the cancellation of day one of the RNC—all eyes were on Jindal’s leadership. As the Associated Press reported, the contrast between his state’s response to this natural disaster and Katrina was “spectacular.” The left, predictably, has reacted by ignoring Jindal’s impressive record of effective governance in favor of obsessing over an apparent exorcism he witnessed while in college. Good thing the Democrats haven’t had any religious controversies come home to roost recently.
Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia is an up-and-coming GOP Congressman whose talent and appeal will continue to serve his party well into the future. He was one of the ringleaders of the widely publicized Republican revolt over oil prices this summer. This brilliant stunt embarrassed House Democratic leaders, who now appear to be buckling on the issue of offshore drilling. Cantor’s name also came up occasionally as a dark horse VP option for John McCain. The DNC responded to these murmurs by essentially asking voters, “did we mention he’s Jewish?” An official Democratic web page dedicated to attacking McCain’s potential running mates (they overlooked Palin) mentioned Cantor’s faith no fewer than five times. The site highlighted the crucial fact that Cantor and disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff are “both Jewish.” You stay classy, Howard Dean.
All of this is not to say that everything’s coming up roses for the Republican Party. Sarah Palin may stumble. McCain might falter during the debates, and Obama may yet win the presidency—he’s still the favorite. Democrats will almost certainly maintain power in both houses of Congress. That being said, if someone had predicted a few months ago that McCain would be leading Barack Obama in mid-September, the GOP base would be euphoric about his campaign, and the conservative movement would be talking giddily about its future leadership, that person would have been derided as some combination of an optimist and a lunatic. Today, it’s a reality. With his bold pick of Sarah Palin, the man who some suggested would ruin the Republican Party may well have saved his own campaign and helped secure his party’s future in one fell swoop.
Well played, Maverick.