Affirmative action on the campaign trail?

Chris Cillizza argues that Sarah Palin is “building a pack of ‘mama grizzlies’ in the 2010 elections that could send a powerful political message if she decides to run for president in 2012.” In this context, the “mama grizzlies” are female Republican candidates. As evidence that Palin is consciously trying to help women get elected this year, Cillizza cites her recent endorsement of Carly Fiorina (California Senate race), Nikki Haley (South Carolina governor race), and Susana Martinez (New Mexico governor race).
If Palin is trying to identify and promote able conservative female candidates who are the best Republicans in their races, that’s commendable. The party could certainly use an influx of talented female office holders. But if Palin is using gender as one of her methods for determining which candidates to endorse, that would be unfortunate. The party cannot afford to compromise on quality in the name of gender equity, and it would be a violation of the public trust to do so.
The situation is somewhat analogous to the general issue of affirmative action. It’s good for employers aggressively to recruit minority candidates, for example by visiting predominantly black colleges. But it’s wrong for employers to prefer minority candidates based on their race when it’s time to make the hiring decision.
Is Palin engaging in the good type of “affirmative actiön” or the bad? It’s difficult to say. Fiorina, something of a “stealth” candidate, is not the most solidly conservative candidate in the Republican Senate primary in California — that distinction belongs to Chuck DeVore. But Palin could reasonably believe that Fiorina’s prospects for defeating Barbara Boxer are better than DeVore’s, and that this tilts the balance in Fiorina’s favor.
Cillizza implies, but stops short of saying, that Palin is touting female candidates in order to maximize her chances of monopolizing the female vote in the 2012 presidential primaries. If so, this would be particularly unfortunate and, indeed, irresponsible. But I don’t assume that Palin is being opportunistic here. Cillizza is no friend of Palin, or of Republicans generally, and his speculation about what motivates Palin or other Republicans should carry little weight.
In any event, I think we need more data points before we can evaluate Palin’s endorsement decisions this season.

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