In a recent interview with ABC News, former vice-president Dick Cheney was blunt about John McCain's decision four years ago to make then-unknown Alaska Governor Sarah Palin his running mate.
His advice to Mitt Romney, this years presumptive Republican nominee: don't do it again.
"I like Governor Palin. I've met her. I know her," Cheney told ABC. "She - attractive candidate. But based on her background, she'd only been governor for, what, two years. I don't think she passed that test…of being ready to take over. And I think that was a mistake."
Cheney is right. And here's why.
Palin definitely energized the Republican faithful when she was chosen. In fact, she still does. I'm sure there are a lot of Republicans who wanted her to run for president this year, which she never did. And 2008 may be the reason why.
McCain's main reasons for picking Palin: her short, albeit productive, tenure as governor, and that she's a woman, with the hopes of attracting independent woman voters who had supported Hillary Clinton.
Many complain that the "mainstream media" tore her apart in interviews during that campaign. Even if that's true, those interviews proved she was untested, not so much as a political figure, but in her inability to handle the inevitable scrutiny that would come her way.
Then came Saturday Night Live, and the discovery that Palin bears more than a passing resemblance to SNL alum Tina Fey, who was brought back to the program to mimic the Republican VP candidate. It was just as devastating as when Chevy Chase, in the early years of the program, tried to imitate a supposedly-clumsy President Gerald Ford. I don't personally know of any time when Palin actually said, "I can see Russia from my house". But because of Fey's use of that line in her Palin routines, a lot of people probably believe Palin did.
Palin herself has blamed the McCain campaign for how it handled her. I'm not sure that's fair, but it seemed that, in the campaign's closing weeks, McCain spent as much time talking about Joe the Plumber, who wasn't a candidate for anything that year (although he later ran for Congress), as he did mentioning Palin.
There were other factors in McCain's loss to Barack Obama. The biggest, in fact, was the economy, which practically imploded with the collapse or near-collapse of several financial institutions in the last two months of the campaign. (It should be noted the McCain-Palin ticket led Obama's in the polls until mid-September). And Obama's victory, while solid, was not a landslide, something I don't think political pundits recall very well now.
For those reasons, one wonders how the 2008 presidential race would have ended if McCain would have chosen a more experienced running mate; not just more experienced as an office-holder (remember, Palin had been governor at that point a little more than 18 months, and, like Obama, had never held any other major elected office). There were more experienced Republicans available to McCain at that time, as there are now to Romney.
Cheney's short statement on the Palin selection: "I don't think that was handled very well."