Useful but not indispensable

Chris Cillizza is the Washington Post’s political blogger whose trasnparent cheerleading for Barack Obama was well in line with the reporting that consistently appeared in the Post’s paper edition. I wrote about one example of his Obama-puffing here — a piece in which Cillizza declared that Obama possessed “gravitas” based on some mushy statements the candidate made at a press conference in Jordan.

Today, Cillizza offers what he says are five myths about the election: (1) the Republican party suffered a death blow, (2) a wave of black voters and young people was the key to Obama’s victory, (3) the Democrats will now usher in a new “progressive” era, (4) a Republican candidate could have won this year, and (5) McCain made a huge mistake in selecting Sarah Palin.

I think Cillizza is largely on target here. All five of the alleged myths are either clearly wrong or subject to considerable doubt.

Cillizza errs, however, in his discussion of Palin when he writes:

It’s hard to imagine conservatives rallying to McCain — even to the relatively limited extent that they did — without Palin on the ticket.

Cillizza assumes without discussion that there were no other available conservatives capable of effectively presenting the speech McCain’s team wrote for Palin at the Republican convention and of providing “red meat” at rallies thereafter. In reality, the base almost certainly would have rallied behind a Mark Sanford, an Eric Cantor, or a Bobby Jindal, to name just three alternatives.

Cillizza has committed a basic fallacy — he substitutes the Palin of today for the Palin of late August. Today, many conservatives would be bitterly disappointed if McCain excluded Palin from the ticket. But in late August, Palin was essentially an unknown, and the “base” would never have known what it missed had McCain selected a different conservative. The focus, instead, would have been on the actual running mate. To the extent that running mate was an articulate conservative, there’s no reason to believe the base wouldn’t have responded enthusiastically.

Conservatives wanted to defeat Obama. Palin gave them a needed incentive to act on that desire. But she was hardly the one who could have provided it.

SCOTT adds: I don’t know how Sanford, Cantor or Jindal would have performed, but I don’t think any of them has Palin’s natural star power or would have provided the spark that Palin added to the ticket this year. Not close.

Paul provides the correct analytical framework. However, with respect to the contribution of Palin to the ticket, I agree with Cillizza and disagree with Paul even though I otherwise agree with Paul’s assessment of Cillizza..

PAUL adds: My thesis is that the conservative vote for McCain would have been essentially the same with another conservative as it was with Palin; in that sense conservatives would have “rallied” to McCain, to use Cillizza’s word. I agree that no one else would likely have generated quite the same enthusiasm that Palin did (enthusiasm which to me sometimes bordered on the irrational). If this is what Scott means by “spark,” then I agree with him.

SCOTT adds: I appreciate Paul’s concession and mean what Paul guesses I might have meant. I also think that Palin attracted a slightly larger conservative vote to McCain than he would have had with any of the alternatives to Palin on the ticket. I can’t prove my thesis, but I wanted to clarify what I meant.

JOHN weighs in: I think conservatives would have greeted the selection of Bobby Jindal, for one, with at least equal enthusiasm. The difference, I think, is that Jindal would not have been subject to anything like the vicious attacks that the Left launched against Governor Palin. For that reason and others, he would not have developed into the phenomenon that Palin became. But McCain’s vote total would not have been materially different, in my opinion.

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