Sarah Palin has polarized the establishment from the grassroots in a way we haven't seen in quite some time. This is happening both within the GOP and in the war between the GOP and the media/Democrats. Establishment Republican consultants are still waiting for Palin's first round of interviews to declare this a done deal, though the speech last night went a long way towards assuaging their initial concerns.
But the fact still remains that if you are thrilled about Palin, you have a grassroots sensibility. If you are not, you have an elite/establishment sensibility. The delegates on the floor are the grassroots. Mike Murphy and Peggy Noonan are the elite. The dividing lines have always been there, but Palin provides the ultimate litmus test.
You can put me firmly with the grassroots on this one.
Before Palin, McCain was running an establishment campaign. He had a conventional strategy, relied on big dollar fundraisers, and didn't fire up the base. Part of this was who John McCain is -- he is not instinctively a red meat kind of guy. While McCain's bipartisan bona fides allow him to run stronger than a generic Republican, it was unclear that he could get the volunteer energy to squeeze out those last three points that only a good GOTV operation can bring. That's because the party faced an almost epic enthusiasm gap. This enthusiasm gap threatened to negate any of the benefits of McCain's bipartisanship. McCain's initial approach would bring him close -- but not close enough.
Palin injected a badly needed jolt of people power into the campaign. The maverick spirit is not gone. It's been reinforced in some key ways. McCain is still the same bipartisan guy he always was -- but Palin provides the grassroots with a reason to crawl on glass to make the phone calls and knock on doors and get out the vote. We didn't have that before. We have it now. Polls don't completely factor it in -- and the establishment tends to discount it as playing to the base. But it is the dark matter of campaigns -- that stuff that gives the campaign a good vibe that lets it put its best foot forward.
Last night represented a triumph of grassroots politics in a campaign we thought had left it for dead. And just as with Republican icons before, the establishment will once again be proven timid and wrong.