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McCain's Dilemma: Romney or Palin More Qualified in '08?

That brings McCain to the subject of Sarah Palin -- possibly the most rapidly chosen and least-vetted candidate for residency in the U.S. Naval Observatory in recent history  (with all due apologies to Dan Quayle). (Roughly 31% of you, according to most polls, are invited to stop reading at this point and fire up the torches in the comment section.) McCain could have said nearly anything else at that point, but he somehow went with declaring the Wonder from Wasilla as being more fully qualified to assume the duties of the presidency on day one. The real question lurking behind the scenes here is, why?

The most likely answer might appear to be that McCain had to come up with an answer that works in the summer of 2012, not 2008. A quick look back at some of the choices he was pondering at the time will reveal a few names which may seem awfully familiar to you today. They include -- aside from Mitt, who had just concluded a bloody battle with him -- T-Paw, Rob Portman, Tom Ridge, and Kay Bailey Hutchison. This is the point where, if we are to be honest, we need to remember that this was before his nomination of Palin transformed her into a supernova-style magnet of conservative adoration. At that time, she was, to all but a handful of hard-core wonks, a name that 99% of the nation wouldn’t have recognized. She was a former mayor of a small town who was still in her first term as governor of a low-population state. To make the claim that she outshone the likes of the rest of the names on that list in terms of “most qualified” to serve in his absence is a bit more than a stretch.

But today we’re in a different ball game. McCain needs to avoid the appearance of painting Romney in an unfavorable light. Obviously he can’t say that there was something shady in Mitt’s tax returns which turned him off. (And for the record, I’m in the camp of those who think there will be nothing found there but the favorite Obama attack line that Mitt has made a lot of money.) He also can’t question his qualifications, which would be hard to do given Romney’s notably impressive resume. So he had to fall back on an implication that candidates simply go with the “most qualified” person as their running mate, leading to the unspoken conclusion that whoever gets the nod from Mitt will fall into the same category.

Unfortunately, it was a rather inept moment to play that card. But in the context laid out above, I suppose I can see why he would say it.