But in trying to wrap my head around this, the same word keeps coming to mind: gimmick. Under the circumstances, this choice has literally nothing to do with governing and everything to do with a desperate search for an electoral edge. McCain used to bill himself as the credible, serious grown-up candidate. That's an exceedingly difficult pitch to make now. When looking for a running mate, Barack Obama looked to someone who could help make him a better president. When looking for a running mate, John McCain looked to someone who could help him look like a better candidate.
Indeed, today's announcement seems to be largely based on two considerations: 1) who might help peel off some disaffected Clinton supporters; and 2) what might help undercut coverage of Obama's big speech in Denver. These aren't the considerations of a national leader; they're the considerations of a political hack.
Consider this item from Power Line, a conservative blog, written before the reports had been confirmed.
I'm worried about Palin. I'm afraid she may be the Geraldine Ferraro of 2008. If she really is the nominee, will it come across as a desperation move, a Hail Mary, as Mondale's choice of Ferraro did in 1984? I'm afraid so. Her experience just doesn't justify a place on the ticket. [...]The most important thing McCain has going for him in this race is the perception that he is the serious candidate. Choosing a running mate who will be widely perceived as unqualified would go a long way toward squandering that advantage.
McCain had a vast group of Republicans to choose from, and he picked someone he barely knows, who's been a governor for a year and a half.
I'm very much looking forward to Ron Fournier's piece, explaining how this shows just how little confidence John McCain has in his own campaign.