Saturday, October 11, 2008

Why "TrooperGate" Will Hurt McCain More Than Palin

John McCain needs this harpoon in the flank of his campaign like he needs another bailout plan or more bad polling numbers:

A state investigator looking into the propriety of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's efforts to get her ex-brother-in-law fired from his state trooper job - - a bi-partisan legislative inquiry that began months before McCain plucked Palin from obscurity to be his running mate - - concluded late Friday that Palin's crusade against the trooper broke the state's ethics code because she used the power of her office against him.

The trooper was involved in a messy divorce from Palin's sister.

Both Palin and her husband Todd were found to have inappropriately misused her office; that pressure was also cited as a contributing factor in Palin's firing of the Alaska public safety commissioner, though his firing was legal because he served at Palin's pleasure, the report said.

Palin could be censured by the Alaska state legislature for the ethics code violation; a separate probe by state personnel regulators could result in more bad press, and a fine.

It's somewhat like the conflict-of-interest investigation that tarred now-Wisconsin State Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler: there were accusations, denials, probes, more denials, then findings and fines.

Imagine all that in the context of a heated presidential campaign with barely three weeks to go.

So the report will be big news. and will saddle the McCain-Palin campaign with a heavy weight, for these reasons:

1. Palin claimed to be have run for Alaska's Governor, and to have been picked to be McCain's running mate, in large measure because she was a reformer. Using one's political office and family to punish a relative or ex-relative is about as old school and underhanded as it gets.

As was ducking subpeonas, suing to halt the probe, and complaining that the timing and origins of the probe were partisan and election-timed, which demonstrably they were not.

2. Palin was not been forthcoming about her motivations and actions in the matter; the report said the reasons she cited for bringing pressure against the trooper were not credible. Now we're into that old political thicket, where the coverup is usually worse in the public's eye than the original offense.

3. The pending investigation was known to McCain before he picked Palin as his running mate. So they either gambled that the lid could be kept on through the election, or the McCain people took Palin's version of events as gospel.

Either way, it reflects poorly on McCain and underscores Palin's incomplete and hurried vetting once Joe Lieberman and Tom Ridge were ruled out. Larger lesson: Let Rush Limbaugh influence your veep pick and you might have live with some nasty consequences.

4. Any negative media in the last few weeks of a campaign - - even more so a Presidential tilt - - take on a life of its own because everything in a campaign is magnified as time runs out; something this fundamental about Palin's governance, record, maturity and truthfulness, and that has been percolating for weeks, is guaranteed to dominate several political news cycles when there aren't that many left to burn.

The economy will be story number one for days and weeks, and perhaps months or years, but the Palin report will lead and drive the 2008 presidential campaign story well into next week.

And it will resurface seamlessly in McCain's final make-or-break debate, where McCain, Reformer I, will have to explain again why he picked her, what he knew and when did he know it. the more he tries to minimize it - - as Palin had been doing - -the more he'll look like a fake.

5. Palin and McCain have been raising rhetorical doubts all week about "the real Obama." Now the shoe is on the other foot. The real Palin? That report is more than 250 pages, and who knows where the Day Two, Day Three, and Sunday network morning shows will take it.

6. The report illustrates an old lesson in politics and physics. Palin had her glitzy and rapid - - too rapid - - ascent, and now what went up is falling back to earth. No secret where it lands: Right on top of McCain's campaign, already dead in the water.

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