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.
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