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Play Action Fake September 1, 2008

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Election.
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Nobody has ever accused the Republican Party of being bad at the political game, but the selection of Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as John McCain’s Vice Presidential nominee has a lot of people asking questions.  After repeatedly questioning Barack Obama’s preparedness, how can you nominate a woman who was mayor of a town 1/20 the size of Obama’s state senate district just two years ago?  After repeatedly questioning Obama’s foreign policy experience, how can you nominate a woman whose only foreign policy experience, according to campaign surrogates (including Tucker Bounds, whom I adore), derives solely from her state’s proximity to Russia?  It seems a little hypocritical.

While her personal positions are well established and widely known (that was sarcasm), what you may not have known is that Sarah Palin is also a woman (that was too).  Does the McCain campaign really think that women are that shallow, even stupid?  No liberal woman I know is going to vote for a pro-life ultraconservative just because she and Hillary are the same gender.  As the Daily Show, my own fair and balanced news outlet of choice, put it: Sarah Palin may be the ideological opposite of Hillary Clinton, but she’s her gynecological twin.  Only women like Samantha Bee, whose “lady brain” cannot process Palin’s desire to overturn Roe v. Wade, will be swayed by this move.

Palin really is just like Hillary, see?

Palin really is just like Hillary, see?

There is also some confusion as to how thorough McCain was in selecting Palin, whom he is calling a “soulmate,” since he only met her twice before their joint rally in Dayton.  The pregnancy situation we are now just learning about also seems like the kind of thing that the VP vetting process would unearth.  The McCain campaign is insisting they knew about this private matter all along and that her daughter’s pregnancy does not make Palin less qualified to be Vice President (one could argue this is a moot point; few things would).  If this is true, we may be witnessing the newest addition to the infamous GOP Electoral Playbook.

Imagine you are John McCain: the Democratic National Convention, for all its hiccups, is generating a lot of positive press for your celebrity opponent, and the coverage reaches fever pitch when Obama nails his acceptance speech.  Yet you have on staff some of the greatest political gamesmen in the history of elections, so you are prepared for the situation.  You reveal as your Vice Presidential nominee a young, conservative woman woefully unprepared for the job at hand.  But she is a breath of fresh air, a glimmer of (dare I say it) hope, and let’s be honest, something to look at – check out the YouTube video of McCain inspecting the goods for his approval of this message.  As warranted criticism descends upon the hapless Alaskan governor, you are able to spin the attacks as sexist to rein in disenchanted Hillary supporters and simultaneously energize the evangelical base with her extremism.  And then the pregnancy hits the news.

Begin Phase II.  The media smells blood in the water as a conservative candidate’s 17-year old daughter is revealed to be 5-months pregnant.  Obviously she’s keeping it (anything else would be murder), and she and her own soulmate are getting married.  Amid the media firestorm, Palin is able to take a principled stand on behalf of her child, appealing for privacy in this personal time.  But even if the mainstream media were to back off, there are enough liberal bloggers and other sources out there to keep the story going.  The GOP cries foul and slams the liberal left for diving to a new moral low.  And finally the trap is sprung.

Just days after her nomination, Palin nobly steps down to protect her family.  McCain selects his new, true VP pick and low and behold, he is very well qualified for the position and just the kind of man Republicans are ready to elect.  As the dust settles, the McCain campaign looks back on its accomplishments: a remarkable $8 million jump in campaign contributions right before the public financing deadline takes effect, a revitalized political base with PUMAs furious on behalf of the sexist media’s latest victim, and the Democratic party backpedalling from a week of wasted attacks that have suddenly backfired.

Peyton Manning running the play

All this brilliant strategy needs is a name, and I’m on top of it.  If I might borrow the term from football, we may be witnessing Palin’s flawless execution of the “Play Action Fake:” at first it looks like she’s going to run…but then she passes.

A version of this post ran in The Chronicle at Duke University.

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