October 14th, 2008
03:04 PM ET

McCain's unraveling began with Palin

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/images/10/08/art.mccain.palin.jpg]Robert Shrum
The Week

The season of Republican recrimination has dawned. The favorite rationalization for the candidate’s drift toward double digit deficits in the polls seems to be that the smears against Obama came too late and looked too desperate. If only McCain had descended into the mire months ago—things might have been different. There is no evidence, of course, that the old Rovian road, no matter when taken, would have led back to the White House in 2008. In serious times, assaults on Ayers and ACORN seem frivolous; and appeals to fear and intolerance don’t win votes, they merely stoke hate and incite right-wing believers.

New York Times columnist William Kristol, who once recommended war on Obama’s character, now urges McCain to “fire the campaign” that followed Kristol’s advice. But mixed messages are the essence of McCain’s exertions. The candidate suffers grievously from a dual sense—first that he has no credible plan to deal with the economic issues he’s said he doesn’t understand and, second, that he’s not steady, but erratic, irascible, lurching from position to position as he wanders around the stage.

Unmoored from strategic coherence, the candidate and his advisors jump from tactic to tactic searching compulsively for the latest trick. This is the driving force behind the campaign’s biggest mistake: selecting the unvetted, unserious Sarah Palin as a running mate. The hasty turn to Palin was based on a series of off-the-cuff assumptions—that she could attract Hillary voters, appeal to women generally, and substitute for the unacceptably pro-choice Joe Lieberman as a way to restore McCain’s brand as a maverick. The aim of this Hail Mary pass was somehow to switch the playing field from the economy to earmarks.

The calculation was wrong on every count.


Editor's Note: Robert Shrum was the senior adviser to the Gore 2000 presidential campaign, the campaign of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and the British Labour Party, as well as the chief strategist for the 2004 Kerry-Edwards campaign.

Filed under: Barack Obama • John McCain • Raw Politics • Sarah Palin
soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. Freda Theus

    John McCain is seeking the highest office in this country. He campaigns on his years of service in the united states senate and the military. How can John McCain lead a country with massive economic
    problems, and problems heightened by threats from abroad when he can't even lead his own campaign.

    John McCain has listened to erroneous advice just as he did with George Bush.

    October 14, 2008 at 10:07 pm |
  2. Vicki from NJ

    Shame on you Michael for even suggesting this. Maybe you are the racist thinker, here. Get a grip and stop thinking so immaturely and rise above it for God's sake. The rest of us have, even if you haven't.

    October 14, 2008 at 9:47 pm |
  3. Ginamarie`

    It bothers me that John McCain never wears the flag pin on his
    suit lapel.

    October 14, 2008 at 9:42 pm |
  4. Michael

    I am so worried by the rabble-rousing tactics being employed by the McCain-Palin campaign. There is no doubt in my mind they are using this thinly veiled tactic. We must face reality. Bigotry, racism, and ignorance still control the hearts and minds of far too many of our fellow citizens, and far too many of these same citizens are dangerous. It is "playing with fire" when anyone even remotely tries to appeal to this evil side of our country. I fear harm could come to Senator Obama as a result of this reckless behavior. Remember the Kennedys. Remember Martin Luther King Jr.. God forbid it, but should some tragedy occur, the blame would directly lay with Senator McCain and Governor Palin.

    October 14, 2008 at 9:11 pm |
  5. Vicki from NJ

    The saddest thing of all for John McCain is that he never had a chance no matter what he does because of President Bush and shame on all of us for not giving him a fair chance throughout this campaign. And, don't be fooled by Sarah Palin's supposed unpopularity because a lot of us happen to think she's perfect.

    So, it it seems to have become destiny for democrats to win which has nothing to do with the man that's running, which again is sad for all of us since it means that we are voting on party lines and not for the individuals running for President. We should all be ashamed because I think that Senator McCain has something to offer along with experience, other than just talk or advisers advising the candidate as in Obama. Further....the democrats have been the majority in the house and senate so what does that tell us, going forward.

    October 14, 2008 at 9:10 pm |
  6. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Palin must have given McCain a "wink and a blink of an eye" and he fell for it but voters didn't. It takes a lot of guts to stand in front of a crowd of people who are hungry for jobs and you tell them you understand and on the other hand you're firing someone from a job for personal reasons as Palin has done and you proudly say that because you are governor you have that right. How could McCain or Palin expect people to respect and believe in them after these kind of actions.

    October 14, 2008 at 8:48 pm |
  7. Herb

    I was never happy with the Palin pick. I think that it was an insult to women and to the intelligence of the American people. There were far better choices available. Condeleza Rice would have been the perfect VP candidate. Of course there were far better Presidential choices for the Republicans than John McCain but at least he is a better choice than Obama

    October 14, 2008 at 8:44 pm |
  8. Sandy

    I think Sarah Palin is a great VP pick for John McCain. She is a fresh face and a fresh voice for the GOP. I would say with her limited amount of time in politics she still would be able to keep up with 4 decades in the Senate Biden. You know the one who doesn't know the difference in the first and 2nd ammendments to the Constitution, the difference between Hoover and Roosevelt and how long since TV were used by politicians. She is not part of the good old boys club!!!

    October 14, 2008 at 8:34 pm |
  9. tanya slidell,la.

    Palin is out for Palin.....I can't see how a lot of women would vote for this woman just because she's female . i do believe in woman's lib but come on women open your eyes. This woman shouldn't even be gov. of any state. The whole Palin thing is one big joke that's taking them down

    October 14, 2008 at 8:12 pm |
  10. tanya twillie

    Sarah Palin doomed his

    October 14, 2008 at 8:02 pm |
  11. Antonio Alberto, Espanola, New Mexico

    When the honorable and respectable war hero John McCain selected former beauty queen Sara Palin as his running mate, he reduced his valiant campaign to a mere beer commercial. Many companies use an attractive model to help sell their product. Effective for commerce, but bad for politics. McCain applied poor judgment by playing the gender card. He's not the same candidate I supported eight years ago. Or maybe I didn't see him clearly as I do now. Out of touch with what we really need.

    October 14, 2008 at 7:46 pm |
  12. adam

    Cindy, I think that Obama would have to do alot more to prove hes worthy in your eyes. The way McCain poorly handled his campaign or not handled it should show not only you but the rest of the hypocrites out there that McCain is just not up for the job and PALIN hurt McCain badly when she accepted his offer to be his running mate. It seems like in times like these people would do best to open their minds and close their mouth, the logic that Palin is anything other than what she is, FAILS. Im pretty sure she will do a fine job representing a small hockey team but to represent a country thats as complex as america, she needs more coaching, her strategy is horrible, she will not be able to bring this country together in these times when we need unity in the united states, oh, wait shes not number one on the ticket but she is the most DANGEROUS thing for america. Just know that if there is a McCain/Palin administration,we will be laughed off the world stage for good never to be taken serious!!!

    October 14, 2008 at 7:30 pm |
  13. JD

    Can you imagine if Michelle Obama had belonged to an organization like Todd Palin did, who wants Alaska to become its own country with its own oil and NOT be part of America? She would have been crucified...WHY ISNT THIS BIGGER NEWS???

    October 14, 2008 at 7:28 pm |
  14. Arnold

    To Cindy from Georgia..leadership is NOT jumping up and down and flailing around trying desparately to come up with an answer to a problem. That's exactly what McCain did these past 4 weeks. The economic issues are complex. There are no easy answers. If there were, Bernanke and Paulson would have already found them. So when Obama made the decision to coolly consult with his team of advisors, that wasn't sitting back and doing nothing. That was being intelligent and cautious and thoughtful, traits that I don't believe McCain possesses. Don't mistake commotion for effective action. Obama displayed the temperment and judgment that resides within his core personality. He will never be reckless. And in these crazy times, I believe that is what America needs.

    October 14, 2008 at 7:13 pm |
  15. Roberto in Revelstoke

    At last count there are 10 female world leaders serving as presidents or prime ministers. This whole Hillary and Palin making history is so silly, and only shows how far we have to go in growing up as a nation.

    If Palin had proven to be intelligent and indeed gone on to win the Vice Presidency, my reaction would be... what took so long.

    As it turns out, she is not intelligent and certainly not qualified for the job. Perhaps her rejection does show some maturity on the part of the nation.

    October 14, 2008 at 7:10 pm |
  16. Carol, CA

    Kind of ironic, you know. McCain is so anti-women's rights, then he picks a woman as a gimmick because he thinks women are stupid, and will vote for ANY woman, and it turns out to be his downfall.

    What goes around comes around.

    October 14, 2008 at 7:10 pm |
  17. Ann from San Diego, CA

    To Cindy from GA,

    I respect everyone's opinion, but do you honestly not see Palin's short comings as a vice president? Why some conservatives are in denial – I'll never know. Even a significant amount of conservatives have jumped of the McCain bandwagon because of how bad the situation has become in the campaign.

    October 14, 2008 at 7:04 pm |
  18. Ann from San Diego, CA

    Agree 100% with the article. I've lost complete faith in McCain; particularly in the last few moths of his campaign. I just can't seem to understand what he was thinking when he picked Palin as VP, "suspended" the campaign and has stooped to desperate mud slinging on Obama. I was an undecided voter but everything that has gone down in the McCain campaign has me voting for Obama this November. Obama may not have decades of experience but he is smart and truly does care about the direction this country is going in.

    October 14, 2008 at 6:51 pm |
  19. El Marko

    The spewing hatred from the left is shocking, apalling, and totally predictable. You people try constantly to stifle free speech (just look at Marcus above). Intimidation, slander, plus one-sided reporting from the MSM: it all adds up to liberal fascism. Be careful. You may get what you wish for, and then when they come for YOU, we won't be there to stop them. Enjoy!

    October 14, 2008 at 6:32 pm |
  20. Mona

    By the way Cindy, McCain is running for President, not Palin. If you can't get behind your candidate before he picks his VP , that's not saying much for your candidate!

    October 14, 2008 at 6:25 pm |
  21. Mona

    Wow Cindy

    Where have you been? Even Republican's are stating Palin was a bad pick. It doesn't seem as though your guy has a lot to say regarding policy issues until he hears Obama. He beginning to sound like a parrot. Also, it's very scary when someone that claims they're so in touch with the country, states, he doesn't know much about the economy and our economy is fundamentally sound. I guess after his handler's reeled him in, he realized stating he didn't know about the economy wasn't the correct thing to say.

    As far as Palin is concerned, she's she down right "inept"!

    October 14, 2008 at 6:23 pm |
  22. Cathy

    Even though I am a democrat, I have always had a great deal of respect for John McCain until he decided to put Sarah Palin on his ticket. As a woman, I was very insulted that he felt that women would vote for her just because of her gender. Having said that, the latest – regarding her involvement with an independent political group that desires to succeed from our country – is tantamount to being a traitor. How can Sarah Palin tell the American people that she is loyal to this country when she has said on the record that she welcomes a political group such as this one? On another matter – Her husband has too much power as far as I am concerned and her real abuse of power is the freedom she gives him to interfere in political matters. Is the Republican ticket – McCain, Palin and Palin?

    October 14, 2008 at 6:17 pm |
  23. Nicole in Birmingham

    We can all pretty much agree that part (big or small) of McCain reason for picking Palin was to attract upset Hillary supporters and it backfired. My husband and I was talking last night and we both agreed that if McCain would have picked Romney as his VP choice like I thought he should being that he made the stupid comment that he didn't know anything about the economy Obama would be struggling right now. Palin only attracts people that was ALREADY going to vote for McCain so I really do see how the pick made any sense.

    And to Cindy in Ga... Sweetie I see blue in your future. You can move down here to Birmingham because this will forever be a red state.

    October 14, 2008 at 6:14 pm |
  24. Kathy in Minneapolis

    Palin is a drag on the ticket. It was a huge miscalculation. You can't just send someone out with memorized answers and speeches and expect the American public to be enchanted with a winking hockey mom. It is an insult to the intelligence of the public especially women. This is a very serious position not a sports game. Now that she has been charged with abuse of power, despite her spin of it, she looks scary as well as unqualified.

    October 14, 2008 at 6:13 pm |
  25. Mandy

    It sure did and I think John Mccain knows it more than anybody else. I guess American are more intelligent than John Mccain gives them credit for. We actually want a vice president who has valuable thougths and can articulate them and has an idea of what is going on in the world around us. In all honesty winking and 'Betcha' and 'Joe six packs...' might be appealing to the first DUDE but not to us.

    October 14, 2008 at 5:55 pm |
  26. Richard - Manassas Virginia

    I am glad someone is saying it. VA is going Obama in a big way! Why? Because the McCain we knew and loved exchanged his soul for a right-wing running mate who doesn't know when to stop repeating the same old lines. All Palin has ever done is repeat talking points someone else gave her. Now this srupid thing about Ares, who cares! We care about jobs, why they are going over seas, and why the Republicans put big business above the people.

    CNN and AC360 you rock!

    Only one thing, get ride of your 100% one sided shows. (aka Lou Dobbs, Glen Beck, etc.) That's when I change the channel.

    October 14, 2008 at 5:53 pm |
  27. Ken

    Palin didn’t cost McCain the White House; she gave him a better shot at it. Most conservatives don’t feel that McCain is conservative enough and she provided him the energized base he needed to have any shot. What has cost McCain the election is the poor campaign he’s ran. He waited to long to bring out the shady associations of Obama's past and he refuses to call him out on his middle class relief which is not tax breaks, but a welfare system for those who refuse to work. Perhaps the biggest thing that’s hurt the McCain campaign and Hillary's before it is the Medias absolute infatuation with Obama. What’s really going to be interesting is when the love fest runs out between the media and Obama and they decide to pull the halo off his head because lets face facts that controversy gets ratings and sell news papers. But to another point Chuck should be ashamed of himself for insinuating that McCain has a problem with black people. He has gone out of his way to avoid the issue of race and has every right to bring out the criminals Obama has associated with.

    October 14, 2008 at 5:28 pm |
  28. Mary, Dallas, Texas

    keep up the good work CNN. All Texans do not agree with Marcus.

    October 14, 2008 at 5:01 pm |
  29. Mark

    Cindy, Your republican base is worthless in this election. There are many republicans who will vote for Obama this election. you will find out in 20 days. McCain made a mockery of this country by choosing Palin.

    October 14, 2008 at 4:51 pm |
  30. harriett

    Mccain and Palin political career is OVER.
    People don't want to hear about race. they want to hear about the issues. Palin abused her powers by breaking the ethics code.


    October 14, 2008 at 4:43 pm |
  31. Ken

    Selecting Sarah Palin was the smartest move John McCain has made. She has single handedly brought a breath of fresh to a weary America. She has been "hated on" by the media with such force that the real Sarah Palin has not been able to emerge or embraced. She has remarkable approval ratings in Alaska. One cannot be so fortunate if you are a democrat in a democrat controlled congress. It is a disgrace that simply because she is pro-life that she is automatically demonized. The tolerance of the educated, elitist, left, is an empty hole. This love affair by the media with Senator Obama will come back to haunt when he begins to limit your freedom of speech. Just ask the good people of Missouri.

    October 14, 2008 at 4:40 pm |
  32. auldgranny

    To Cindy from Georgia...so what state you going to move to when Obama takes Georgia...don't you just love karmic pay-back, ROFL!

    October 14, 2008 at 4:36 pm |
  33. Emmerentia

    Cindy, where have you been in the past few weeks and what are you watching on TV? Obama has do-able plans for America's economy, basic, common sense plans. I read his book "the audacity of hope" and it clearly laid out what can be done for healthcare, education (and believe me unless Americans improve their education, India and China's innovation will put more American jobsin danger). McCain is the one falling around and asking others "what to do" re the economic mess Americans have put themselves and the world in!! Wake up, Cindy and those who think like you.

    October 14, 2008 at 4:35 pm |
  34. Alex

    Let the truth be told....for a change. McCain's unraveling began almost eight years ago in the form of another Republican who became the President....George W. Bush. Between Mr. Bush, some Senators and Congressmen who were criminally indicted, it became immensely clear the Republicans didn't deserve another shot (for a while at least) at leading our nation. People plainly got tired of the bull.

    October 14, 2008 at 4:21 pm |
  35. Marcus

    CNN dont listen to them. Your doing a great job, and whoever says other wise can go watch FOX NEWS... for the closed minded, now you just have to pull glenn beck.

    October 14, 2008 at 4:20 pm |
  36. Jenny Rome Ga

    You betcha ! He lost me at Sarah Palin. I will say I was already leaning Obama but by the time she had finished bashing community organizers I would have elected Obama King (for a day). I have never seen such hate and vile coming from someone who last name was not (George)Wallace or (J.B)Stoner. I am telling you, I was genuinely frightened at the crowds last week at her rallys. It is never appropriate to scream "Kill him" at any gathering unless it is a KKK meeting which hers were becoming shockingly close.

    October 14, 2008 at 4:19 pm |
  37. LaToya

    Cindy, I'm not sure what campaign you've been watching but McCain is the one who has done nothing about the economic crisis. He hasn't even done anything for that matter!! And if you think McCain cares, you are so wrong and disillusional. McCain cannot speak to this issue because it is not affecting him or his family. He is rich with many houses, so tell me why he would care again? Just like his stupid partner in the white house. Have you seen his speeches in regards to the economy? He doesn't even look like he knows whats going on!! He's just standing up there TRYING to read his cue cards and show sympathy. He don't care either, you know why. His family is already rolling in dough, and bc of all you smart people out there that voted for him the American people will be taking care of his dumb butt. Why don't you ponder on that before voting another dumb, rich guy in office!!

    October 14, 2008 at 4:03 pm |
  38. Bob from Dallas, Texas

    Can't cnn wait until after the election to anoint your messiah?

    October 14, 2008 at 3:34 pm |
  39. Cindy

    About Palin ruining it for McCain...you are SO wrong on that! If it were not for her the Rep base would not even be behind McCain. He would be way worse off if he had not chosen her.

    And Obama has done nothing to prove himself worthy during this economic mess either. But I guess sitting back and doing or saying nothing counts as being right or steady in your eyes. All it shows to me is he has no clue and has to ask someone else what to do.


    October 14, 2008 at 3:28 pm |
  40. Cindy

    About Palin ruining it for McCain...you are SO wrong on that! If it were not for her the Rep base would not even be behind McCain. He would be way worse off if he had not chosen her.

    And Obama has done nothing to prove himself worthy during this economic mess either. But I guess sitting back and doing or saying nothing counts as being right or steady in your eyes. All it shows to me is he has no clue and has to ask someone else what to do.


    October 14, 2008 at 3:26 pm |
  41. Deirdre

    Negative campaigning didn't help Hillary Clinton either. People are tired of nasty politics. Hillary only caught up with Obama because he clearly stopped campaigning in certain states once he knew he had enough of the electorial votes. Everyone else knew that he had won but Hillary and her most stubborn, biased supporters. It had already been proven that once Obama campaigned in a state, that he was able make ground and gain votes. And just like in the Clinton Campaign, McCain's campaign seems inconsistant–desperately trying any tactic that will work. Is that how The White House will be run? McCain insulted me, and I'm a Democrat who was already voting for Obama, when he picked Palin. What an insult to my intelligence and to the intelligence of many other women as if we clearly couldn't see what he was up to. The trouble here is that she is "unqualified period". At least he could have selected someone more qualified. His repeated lack of judgement has even caused republicans to shake their heads, and some to even position themselves to be dismissed from his campaign. What a mess. And if he ends up in office–what a mess we'll have for the next four years!

    October 14, 2008 at 3:22 pm |
  42. chuck

    John McCain failed his Party and has never recovered with the VP pick.Obviously there were better qualified women in the Republican Party. How about Condi Rice? she would have been a great choice.I think looking at John McCain over the past two months I've seen great hatred displayed for Barack Obama and it leaves me to wonder if he does not like black people. My answer is a bold "yes" from the way he has been acting recently. This clearly shows McCain did not put his country first in choosing his VP. If he was trying to seperate himself from Bush he has to remember he is still running under the Republican Party. You will certainly hear the back bites you didn't hear after the elections.Only If------------.TOO LATE. He has proven to be a very poor candidate in the way he has handled his campaign.

    October 14, 2008 at 3:21 pm |