Steve Schmidt, John McCain's former chief campaign strategist, said today that if former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin were to be the Republican nominee, it would be "catastrophic" for the Republican Party.
"I think that she has talents, but my honest view is that she would not be a winning candidate for the Republican candidate in 2012, and in fact, were she to be the nominee, we would have a catastrophic election result."
"In the year since the election has ended, she has done nothing to expand her appeal beyond the base. ... Th[e] independent vote is going to be up for grabs in 2012. That middle of the electorate is going to be determinative of the outcome of the elections. I just don't see that if you look at the things she has done over the year ... that she is going to expand that base in the middle."
Schmidt is the highest ranking former member of McCain's inner circle to openly criticize Palin. He has largely remained silent since the election, being one of the few McCain staff members privy to the entire vice presidential selection process. Partisan political allies have blamed Schmidt for unflattering leaks -- including the famous, unattributed quote that Palin had "gone rogue" in the final weeks of the campaign. Schmidt has denied being the source of the leaks, though he has acknowledged tensions with Palin during the campaign.
Schmidt and Democratic strategist Bob Shrum agreed that the central question that would determine the results of the 2010 midterm elections would be: can the Democrats govern? "Obama's task is to make this work," he said, noting that Republicans had a knack for getting their policy programs into place and Democrats had much less of a similar track record when their guys were president. "I do think there is every potential in 2010 and 2012 to begin to see independent candidates who are capturing a significant percentage of the vote and even win." These candidates, he said, are socially tolerant and fiscally conservative, like Michael Bloomberg. A Republicanism "modeled on Alabama Republicanism" won't work in the rest of the country, Schmidt said. But the independent energy, he said, was "right of center."
Said Shrum: "The Republican Party is surely going to come back. Either because there is an utter Democratic collapse ... in which case it may not adapt too much, or it's going to get to the kind of a bigger tent Republicanism that Steve is talking point. I think that is really hard. I think Democrats have proved better at dealing with senators like Bob Casey, who is pro-life, than Republicans are." Shrum said he was "somewhat more optimistic" about Democratic prospects for 2010. "I think that if the economy is perceived to be coming back," Democrats will do better. It's a matter of expectations, he said, pointing to the jump in the unemployment rate today. "What counts politically is where we are a year from today." Schmidt said that while he thinks 2010 will be a "good Republican year," it won't be a referendum on President Obama. He said that the 46 Democrats who ran and won in districts carried by Sen. John McCain will "have a tough time." Sam Donaldson (!) was first to the microphone with a question. Does Rush Limbaugh lead the Republican Party?
Said Schmidt: "The talk radio universe went all in against John McCain in the primaries ... we talked about it all the time ... in fact, is the opposition is going to be determinative in the outcome of the nomination process. But you cannot make an argument that they didn't try as hard as they could to derail the nomination. ... I don't think all the people who listen to Rush Limbaugh are programmable," he said. "When you look at media fragmentation, where ratings are determinative, on 400 channels, when you have two million people who are watching, you have a massive audience share."
Said Schmidt: "The leadership of the party cannot be outsourced to the conservative-entertainment complex." Shrum said that the next several elections will test the hypothesis of whether these partisans are merely talking to themselves or influencing other voters. "The fragmentation doesn't persuade voters, but it can disrupt campaigns," he said.
Gary Hart -- that Gary Hart -- asked Steve Schmidt whether Republicans used national security to scare voters. "It is a legitimate issue that President Obama talked in the campaign, Afghanistan as the necessary war, and now there seems to be a dissonance between the rhetoric and the action." Iraq "wasn't Bush's war" and Afghanistan isn't "Obama's war. The notion that we are so partisan today than even the maximum action ... going to war ... even that is viewed through partisan lens ... it's very very bad for the country. It fuels the cynicism that people have in the country. There needs to be a restoration of the post-Cold War consensus."
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is a senior fellow at the USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.