McCain and Palin play the blame game

A few days ago Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin went off script about her $150,000 shopping spree, much to the chagrin of John McCain’s staffers. Now, according to Roger Simon of the Politico, “John McCain’s campaign is looking for a scapegoat. It is looking for someone to blame if McCain loses on Tuesday. And it has decided on Sarah Palin.”

Democratic consultants James Carville and Paul Begala recently wrote an article in the Huffington Post about their ground rules for the blame game that will inevitably take place should Republicans lose on Tuesday: “Here’s the most important thing about finger-pointing: you have to start early. If you’re a Republican who wants to avoid blame for the current meltdown, you cannot afford to wait until after the election is over.”

Apparently McCain and Palin both got the memo.

Earlier this week Palin defended the $150,000 McCain’s campaign spent on updating her wardrobe, saying: “Those clothes, they are not my property. Just like the lighting and the staging and everything else that the RNC purchased, I’m not taking them with me.” Not exactly the message a senior McCain aide said Palin had received from the campaign.

Palin went even further off script when she said in an interview with ABC News that she would like to remain a national political figure should the campaign, er, not win next week. From CNN, here’s the question: “What happens in 2012 if you lose on Tuesday, would you simply go back to Alaska?” And Palin’s response: “Absolutely not. … I think that, if I were to give up and wave a white flag of surrender against some of the political shots that we’ve taken, that … that would … bring this whole … I’m not doin’ this for naught.”

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, dumbstruck, said: “That’s not supposed to be something that you say. You’re supposed to say, ‘Well I’m not looking ahead. I’m looking only ahead to Tuesday.’ Those are the talking points that you’re supposed to be saying. But she’s obviously blunt and she’s looking ahead if something were to happen on Tuesday that she wouldn’t be happy with.”

And the McCain campaign? From CNN’s Dana Bash: “There was a long pause and I just heard a ‘Huh,’ on the other end of the phone.”

For their part, McCain’s folks unleashed a torrent of abuse onto Palin this week, with an anonymous staffer calling her “a diva. She takes no advice from anyone. … She does not have any relationships of trust with any of us, her family or anyone else. Also, she is playing for her own future and sees herself as the next leader of the party. Remember: Divas trust only unto themselves, as they see themselves as the beginning and end of all wisdom.”

Campaign staffers also pretty much admitted Palin couldn’t handle the job of president in another CNN story:

Two sources, one Palin associate and one McCain adviser, defended the decision to keep [Palin’s] press interaction limited after she was picked, both saying flatly that she was not ready and that the missteps could have been a lot worse.

They insisted that she needed time to be briefed on national and international issues and on McCain’s record.

“Her lack of fundamental understanding of some key issues was dramatic,” said another McCain source with direct knowledge of the process to prepare Palin after she was picked. The source said it was probably the “hardest” to get her “up to speed than any candidate in history.”

Barack Obama’s running mate, Joe Biden, has occasionally veered from his talking points as well, most notably when he recently told donors at a Seattle fund raiser that the world will “test” Obama within the first few months of his presidency. “Watch,” said Biden, “we’re going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.”

In the end, though, the second guy or gal on the ticket rarely has much of an impact on the election. Going back to Roger Simon’s article in the Politico, he quotes Lee Atwater as putting the 1988 Dan Quayle effect at 2-3 percentage points. However, Bush “survived his bad choice by winning the election on his own. McCain could do the same thing. But his campaign’s bad decisions have not stopped with Sarah Palin. It has made a series of questionable calls, including making Joe the Plumber the embodiment of the campaign.”

Ouch. Certainly the Palin pick has not helped McCain in quite the way he’d hoped, despite the enthusiasm she generates among his conservative base. For McCain to blame his loss entirely on her, though … well, he’s the one that brung her.

Colorado Independent’s blogumnist (blogger-columnist) Jeff Bridges has worked in Democratic politics for the last 10 years, serving as communications director for two congressional races in Colorado and two governors races in the Deep South. Bridges also worked as a legislative assistant in Washington, D.C., with a focus on military and small-business issues.

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