The meeting carried on without Schmidt or Rick Davis uttering an opinion about Palin. Few in the room were aware that the two had been speaking to each other about Palin for some time now. Davis was with McCain when the two met Palin for the first time, at a reception at the National Governors Association winter meeting in February, in the J. W. Marriott Hotel in Washington. It had not escaped McCain’s attention that Palin had blasted through the oleaginous Alaska network dominated by Frank Murkowski and Ted Stevens, much in the same manner that McCain saw himself doing when he was a young congressman. Newt Gingrich and others had spoken of Palin as a rising star. Davis saw something else in Palin — namely, a way to re-establish the maverick persona McCain had lost while wedding himself to Bush’s war. A female running mate might also pick off some disaffected Hillary Clinton voters. After that first brief meeting, Davis remained in discreet but frequent contact with Palin and her staff — gathering tapes of speeches and interviews, as he was doing with all potential vice-presidential candidates. One tape in particular struck Davis as arresting: an interview with Palin and Gov. Janet Napolitano, the Arizona Democrat, on “The Charlie Rose Show” that was shown in October 2007. Reviewing the tape, it didn’t concern Davis that Palin seemed out of her depth on health-care issues or that, when asked to name her favorite candidate among the Republican field, she said, “I’m undecided.” What he liked was how she stuck to her pet issues — energy independence and ethics reform — and thereby refused to let Rose manage the interview. This was the case throughout all of the Palin footage. Consistency. Confidence. And . . . well, look at her. A friend had said to Davis: “The way you pick a vice president is, you get a frame of Time magazine, and you put the pictures of the people in that frame. You look at who fits that frame best — that’s your V. P.” Schmidt, to whom Davis quietly supplied the Palin footage, agreed. Neither man apparently saw her lack of familiarity with major national or international issues as a serious liability. Instead, well before McCain made his selection, his chief strategist and his campaign manager both concluded that Sarah Palin would be the most dynamic pick. Despite McInturff’s encouraging new numbers, it remained their conviction that in this ominous election cycle, a Republican presidential candidate could not afford to play it safe. Picking Palin would upend the chessboard; it was a maverick type of move. McCain, the former Navy pilot, loved that sort of thing. Then again, he also loved familiarity — the swashbuckling camaraderie with his longtime staff members, the P.O.W. band of brothers who frequently rode the bus and popped up at his campaign events, the Sedona ranch where he unwound and grilled wagonloads of meat. By contrast, McCain had barely met Palin.Then "the senator took the governor down to a place where he usually had his coffee, beside a creek and a sycamore tree, where a rare breed of hawk seasonally nested," and an hour later McCain had a running mate. The Making (and Remaking and Remaking) of McCain [NYT]
The explosive New York Times Magazine story on the complete disarray of the McCain campaign is live online! It's full of revealing exclusive info that one was previously forced to just infer based on the available evidence! Like: the tone, strategy, and narrative of McCain's campaign has been inconsistent because the candidate himself is terrible with organization and consistency, and has relied on metanarrative crafter/biographer Mark Salter, Rovian media guru Steve Schmidt, and close friend and day-to-day campaign head Rick Davis to work it all out between the three of them. And there is infighting, of course, and everyone will soon blame everyone else, but honestly the ultimate responsibility for the failure of the campaign (should it fail in two weeks, obv) comes down to Senator McCain. He's a terrible candidate, unable to read from teleprompters and unwilling to do campaign events before 9 a.m.. He chafes at taking directions—told to gently explain once in the first debate that Obama might not understand an issue, McCain condescendingly repeated the mantra "Senator Obama doesn't understand..." ten times. These are unfair and surely maddening criticisms—ability to read from a teleprompter is not actually that presidential a quality, or else Sarah Palin would be qualified—but this is the world we live in, and GOP strategists certainly helped create it. But more importantly, his high self-regard makes him utterly unable to forgive or get over minor personal slights. He can't understand why everyone else doesn't see how much of an unprepared phony Barack Obama is, and the "I can't believe I'm losing to this guy" attitude is always, always a loser—ask the last five Democrats to run for President not named Clinton. His ability to justify his own inconsistencies isn't shared by the electorate either. In his mind, he can square Palin's inexperience and robocalls and negative campaigning with the honorable man he's always been. The constant schizophrenic narrative changes are, of course, Steve Schmidt's fault. And here's some inside shit on the Palin pick—the serious grownups had a decent shortlist that included Pawlenty, Romney, and even Bloomberg. But they weren't exciting and mavericky ernough, so Schmidt and Davis quietly picked Palin based entirely on image without examining substance.