The common consensus of pundits — conservative and liberal — is that the vice presidential debate Thursday was a tie. In light of the John McCain campaign’s rapid loss of momentum, a tie means a loss. The common logic says the Republican ticket needed a game-changing debate and didn’t get one. But to this conservative, it is not the mere fact that the debate had no clear winner that makes this a loss for McCain and Sarah Palin. Rather, it was the many opportunities that Sen. Joe Biden graciously handed Palin but she didn’t seize.
It’s not all gloom and doom for Republicans, though, as the liberal media would like to make it seem. Despite the fact that a poll after the debate showed 51 percent of viewers thought Biden won and only 36 percent thought Palin had won, the same viewers thought Palin was more likeable, 54 percent to 36 percent. The McCain-Palin ticket is running 5.7 points behind Obama-Biden, according to the most recent Real Clear Politics average of all reputable national polls and is also behind in most of the all-important swing states.
A comeback wouldn’t be unheard of. But it would have been much more likely had Palin pointed out a couple of things Thursday.
First, Palin missed a golden opportunity to speak to conservatives about their favorite issue: protecting the Constitution. For example, Biden, speaking of Vice President Dick Cheney, said, “The idea (Cheney) doesn’t realize that Article I of the Constitution defines the role of the vice president of the United States, that’s the executive branch.”
Palin easily could have retorted, “Actually Joe, Article I of the Constitution discussed legislative power. Ya know, it’s disappointing that a sitting senator doesn’t even know the Constitution he’s sworn to protect. The American people need somebody who is intimately familiar with the Constitution.”
Given the didactic tone with which Biden lectured Americans, the above Palin response could have pointed out Biden’s inconsistencies and fired up the conservative base at the same time. Fitting this comment in with her previous points about Biden’s past praise of McCain and past criticism of Obama (calling him “not fit to be commander in chief”) would have scored major political points.
But by far the biggest missed opportunity was in foreign policy — Palin’s weak point. The moderator, Gwen Ifill, asked Biden if Americans have the stomach for all the intervention he has proposed over the years, citing his calls for intervention in Bosnia, Iraq, Pakistan and Sudan. Biden responded, “I think the American public has the stomach for success. My recommendations on Bosnia … saved tens of thousands of lives … (and) the end result was it worked.”
Palin’s response was weak, discussing how she helped divert Alaskan state funds away from Sudanese companies with which it was doing business.
Instead, she should have answered as follows: “Ya know, let’s talk about success senator. Certainly, I can’t match your long record in the realm of foreign policy. But, I don’t think the American people — those Main Streeters — just want experience. They want good Main Street judgment. You cite Bosnia as a success, yet 13 years after the initial conflict, we still have 10,000 troops there. You were one of the few opposed the first Gulf War, saying thousands of U.S. soldiers would die. In fact, only 293 did in an overwhelming victory. Your maverick opposition was irresponsible.
Today, you don’t talk about success in Iraq. But just a few months before the surge, you suggested segregating Iraq into three separate countries. I guess, despite the fact that segregation didn’t work in the United States, it is good enough for Iraq. Instead of following your advice, John McCain, in a successful maverick decision, proposed the surge that has brought down military and civilian casualties drastically over the last year.
Ya know Joe, I think the American people want the kind of success that John McCain’s maverick judgment will bring to foreign policy.”
Of course, it is easy to suggest these answers now. But the alternatives highlight that Thursday’s debate represented McCain’s last best hope, and it did not quite pull McCain back into the race.
The McCain-Palin campaign, barring some major mistakes by Obama-Biden will likely lose this election. But expect this only to harden conservatives. Conservatives thrive when they are in the opposition (take a look at the early years of the Clinton administration) and flounder when in power (look no further than the 2006 midterm elections).
Despite the hopes of the Obama campaign and many liberals, electoral defeat may just be the thing that reignites the conservative base. Democrats better hope that Republicans don’t find the second coming of Ronald Reagan by 2012, or conservatives will again unite behind a presidential candidate.