I had the honor of experiencing the roller coaster that was the John McCain–Sarah Palin presidential campaign first hand. Within barely 48 hours after then-Governor Palin was announced as the nominee, I landed in Anchorage, Alaska as one of the first people from campaign headquarters on the ground there.
The next days were a whirlwind of shuttling between Anchorage and Wasilla while doing everything from helping Governor Palin's family deal with the media, to making sure they got on the plane to go to the Republican National Convention.
Nothing I have ever done has matched the excitement felt after Governor Palin's speech at the convention. I watched the speech at the Peanut Farm bar in Anchorage where we put together a watch party mixed with a simultaneous interview by CNN's Kyra Phillips with Governor Palin's sister and brother-in-law. That speech resulted in the only consistent period of the 2008 general election when Senator McCain led then-Senator Obama in each major poll.
Unfortunately for all of us who worked so hard to elect Senator McCain as president in the fall of 2008, we all know how it ended. The movie Game Change is an interesting opportunity to relive the 2008 campaign, but the best reason to look back is to make sure the GOP does not experience the same disappointing loss in 2012 as it did in 2008.
Here are the top three lessons that the 2012 GOP nominee—which I strongly believe will be and should be former Gov. Mitt Romney—should take from John McCain circa 2008 when picking a running mate:
- Do pick a nominee who energizes the party's voter base—Governor Palin is a quintessential example of this. On the other hand, see Sen. Joe Lieberman as former Vice President Al Gore's pick in 2000.
- Do pick a nominee who is, or can realistically become, personally compatible with the presidential candidate—Senator McCain's statements in the last week once again praising Palin attest to the existence of that positive relationship between them. For an opposite example, see Sen. John Kerry and then-Sen. John Edwards in 2004.
- Do weigh the balance of the element of surprise versus (a) the need to have enough time to prepare the campaign staff to handle any and all questions about the VP pick, and (b) having a VP nominee who has experienced the national spotlight.
I remain convinced that Governor Palin was a net positive for the campaign in 2008 mostly due to her ability to reach and energize voters. The reality is that with the economy in a tailspin under a sitting Republican president, we could have had the 1980 version of Ronald Reagan as the nominee and the result would have unfortunately been the same.
In 2012, the picture is drastically different and there is a real opportunity for the GOP to see one of its own as president in 2013, thus making the lessons of 2008 that much more vital.