Lyndon B. Johnson is widely thought to have been the only vice-presidential candidate in recent history to have made a significant difference in the election of a president. This year, a lot of emphasis has been placed on the vice-presidential nominees, in large part because the primary season featured many high-profile candidates. The relative inexperience of Barack Obama and the love/hate relationship John McCain entertains with his own party have also placed greater emphasis on their running mates
There’s no doubt McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin has energized the Republican base: the large attendance at McCain/Palin rallies is often attributed to the presence of the Alaska governor. Republicans also like to tout maverick nature of their ticket and how they will bring their brand of change to Washington. However, Palin’s interviews with mainstream media outlets have been an embarrassment and have raised doubts about McCain himself. Parallels are often made with the selection of Dan Quayle, who was arguably the most mediocre choice as running mate since the end of WWII. Another common reference point is Thomas Eagleton, who was badly vetted and had to withdraw from the ticket of Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern in 1972.
In recent days, many conservative columnists—most notably Christopher Buckley, son of William Buckley—have come out in favour of Obama. The common thread in these columnists’ argument for abandoning McCain has been the choice and performance of Palin. Palin has acted as the attack dog on Obama, all while neatly sidestepping controversies regarding her own candidacy: trooper-gate and the subsequent report have raised questions of abuse of power and breach of ethics; there are still no definitive answers about her role in the “bridge to nowhere” fiasco; and, when it comes to matters of policy, even the McCain people do not wish to have her commenting to the media. In spite of the initial buzz her selection generated, Palin has been a drag on the Republican ticket.
Tonight is the final debate between the presidential candidates. McCain needs a game changer and we should expect him to be aggressive—he has already indicated he may raise the Ayers connection to question Obama’s truthfulness about the relationship—because this race is not over yet. Though the margin in favour of Obama has widened in recent days, the Obama-Biden ticket must not underestimate the comeback skills of McCain. However, no matter what happens, McCain’s most important decision had to do with his choice of Palin as a running mate. And in the long run, that may have done more to raise questions about McCain’s credentials to be president than anything else.