A new op-ed in the Washington Post penned by President Barack Obama's former chief of staff, William M. Daley, blames the Republican Party's current dysfunction on Arizona Senator John McCain's “reckless” choice of Sarah Palin for his presidential running mate in 2008.
Daley calls McCain “one of the party’s more thoughtful and substantive veterans,” but he says the country only needs to look at “this year’s carnival-like GOP presidential primary” to see the legacy of his choice.
A direct line can be drawn from Palin, famous for her flamboyant and frequently inaccurate remarks, to the current GOP front-runners, Donald Trump and Ben Carson, he concludes.
“[Trump] vows to make Mexico pay for a 'great, great wall' on the U.S. side of the border [and Carson] questions evolution and asks why victims of the latest mass shooting didn’t 'attack the gunman,'” Daley writes.
From the Tea Party to the “batch of nonsense-spewing, hard-right candidates” elected to office beginning in 2008, it's hard to look back at the last few years of American politics without noting the obvious – there was one event that “[stands] out as a crucial turning point on the road to upheaval: the 2008 embrace of then-Alaska [Governor] Sarah Palin to be a heartbeat from the presidency,” he writes.
Whether McCain hand-selected Palin or was advised to choose her by his campaign team remains irrelevant, Daley concludes, because “what’s critical is that substantive, serious Republican leaders either wouldn’t or couldn’t declare, before or after the election: 'This is not what our party stands for. We can and must do better.'”
The rise of Palin coincides with the rise of “never compromise demands,” and the triumph of “bombast, not reason,” he says, adding that in retrospect, Palin's celebrity should have been “a warning that the party was prizing glib, red-meat rhetoric over reasoned solutions.”
McCain, who did not respond to a request for comment, continues to this day to trumpet her attributes. (To be fair, McCain did stop short of saying he'd endorse a Palin run for the White House in 2016 earlier this year.)
If McCain had vetted Palin, and subsequently decided to run with a different candidate, would the GOP political scene of today still look like a mess? Daley doesn't explicitly say. But what he does say is that the far right is “thriving in the same cynical value system that puts opportunistic soundbites above seriousness, preparedness and intellectual heft” — i.e., the same environment that brought us Sarah Palin and kept her in the spotlight.
In fact, Daley suggests that perhaps the only thing worse than McCain's decision and the party establishment's subsequent support of her, was the fact that even after McCain lost the election, GOP leaders “either remained quiet or abetted the dumbing-down of the party.
“They stood by as Donald Trump and others noisily pushed claims that Obama was born in Kenya. And they gladly rode the tea party tiger to sweeping victories in 2010 and 2014,” he writes, suggesting that they are continuing to do so today – take the House Freedom Caucus, for example.
Of course, not everyone is so quick to say the GOP dysfunction is McCain's fault. Joel B. Pollack of the conservative news outlet, Breitbart, writes that Daley's article proves he “knows nothing of the history of Palin’s rise.”
She was “the natural choice” for vice president in 2008, he says, because: “First, she had built a track record of bucking party leadership on issues of transparency, as McCain had. And second, she had the potential to attract female voters after Barack Obama shafted Clinton for Joe Biden.”
The Republican party unleashed a “tiger” by championing Palin, Daley concludes in the Washington Post piece, “and now that tiger is devouring the GOP establishment.”
Daley writes that many hoped the presidential primary debates would help dampen support for Trump and Carson, “but they are watching helplessly as Trump leads the pack.”
With the third GOP debate set for this week, “It’s hard to feel much sympathy,” he adds.