When Sarah Palin disagrees with John McCain, it means something. Or does it?

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Oct. 20 2008 7:22 PM

Palin's Campaign vs. McCain's

When Sarah Palin disagrees with John McCain, it means something. Or does it?

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Also fueling the discussion about Palin's motivations is the brewing conversation that attends any campaign that appears to be on the ropes with two weeks to go. Democrats want to push the idea she's out for herself because it suggests that if the No. 2 on the ticket is looking out for her future, the race must really be over. Aides inside the campaign want to retain their political viability, so they blame Palin for the loss. The "going rogue" story line contributes to the idea that she sunk the effort. If they advocated for Palin in the first place, they can try to say (implausibly) that they never thought she'd be as bad as she's turned out to be.

Palin and her behavior have become a part of the crucial postmortem (pre-mortem?) for those hoping to affect the next generation of conservative thinking. McCain could still win. But as his fortunes appear to dim, those with the first explanations for his failure stand the best chance of shaping the post-McCain party.

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Those outside the campaign who were against the Palin pick, meanwhile, want to characterize her as a purely self-interested politician—it's final proof of their prescience. Those who want to blame the campaign strategists paint Palin as a political natural damaged by a ham-handed campaign. One Republican veteran said that when Palin was asked to link Obama to Ayers, she resisted. It was McCain aides who pushed her to pick up the attack. A McCain aide tells me the exact opposite is true. Palin was regularly asking to be more aggressive.

With so many permutations and mixed motivations, the Palin saga is starting to feel like a Restoration play. (I hope in the end all the characters come onstage and all is revealed.) What does Sarah actually think? Who knows? Unlike previous vice-presidential candidates and most other politically ambitious people, she doesn't have a political hack who has been at her side for years, protecting her political portfolio and spinning the press to preserve her reputation. If she really wants to have a national political future, now may be the time for her to go out and get herself one.