What Palin Says About McCain

Joe Klein and Andrew Sullivan both see the pick as rash and impulsive:

The Palin pick reflects the most dangerous tendencies in McCain’s foriegn policy–the tendency to react, to overreact, to crises, without thinking it through. It also reflects a defiant, adolescent “screw you” attitude toward governance.

I’m not so sure about that. You can’t govern if you can’t get elected, and I’m not sure McCain thinks he can be elected unless he changes the game. What worries me, though, is that his method of changing the game may be risky in a way not even Sullivan and Klein are seeing. Palin, I’m growing more convinced, is a play to rural voters partially sympathetic to the GOP. That makes it also a bid to tip anywhere from two to four states (Colorado, Nevada, Virginia and maybe New Mexico) firmly into the GOP camp and thus decide the election. Ohio — a mixed bag between rural and urban — would constitute a bonus. 

The risk in this strategy is the possibility of another popular-vote loss for the GOP. And I’m not talking a thin margin like George W. Bush’s 543,895-vote loss in 2000, either. Obama with his organizing prowess could roll up a couple million votes more than McCain thanks to his vote-getting potential in the major cities. 

If that comes to pass, and Obama still loses the electoral vote, the calls for a constitutional amendment will be immediate and impossible to ignore. But Republicans won’t go along with that, as passage of a popular-vote amendment would likely sink their presidential prospects for at least a decade or so.

Such an impasse would make the wrangling we saw after Clinton’s plurality wins in 1992 and 1996 and Bush’s electoral-vote-only win in 2000 seem like mere child’s play. And yet McCain and his team are accepting that risk.

The folks at 538 at the moment believe there’s only a 2.55 percent chance of McCain’s winning without carrying the popular vote. Those are small odds. I don’t know if they’re small enough.

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