Kathryn – Like you and just about everybody here, I have unbridled respect for Charles Krauthammer as one of the smartest and insightful guys around. But I think he’s wrong in at least one important respect (and yes, I’m working on a column on this). Whatever the merits of Sarah Palin, I think he’s stretching things when he says McCain was on a path to victory before he picked her. I simply don’t think McCain could have won on the experience issue alone. It’s an important part of the equation, to be sure. But the experience issue didn’t win for Hillary and it’s even less likely it would have won for McCain. This, after all, is a change election as everyone says and the experience theme is a status quo one that invites linkage to Bush.
McCain needed to unload his reform theme at the convention for the general election. Candidates routinely unveil new themes for the homestretch (We sometimes forget that most people haven’t been paying attention like we have so the change seems more jarring than it does to normal voters). The problem for McCain is that he couldn’t possibly sell “change” with almost any other pick (Bobby Jindal and perhaps Pawlenty excepted). With Palin, he not only has someone who reinforces his outsider-reformer bona fides, he has a pick who excites the base which generally didn’t get fired up by McCain’s reformer schtick (not so much because they don’t want reform, but they don’t trust that McCain’s reforms are the reforms they want). McCain can now reach out to independents and moderates without worrying about his right flank.
Remember, Charles wanted to make the surge the central plank of his campaign, which I think would have been disastrous (as I argued here). Elections are about the future, not the past. If Palin doesn’t self-destruct somehow, she lets McCain offer his own change you can believe in.