A wardrobe for the Real America

A WARDROBE FOR THE REAL AMERICA…. As Hilzoy noted last night, Sarah Palin has a new and unexpected problem — the Republican National Committee has spent more than $150,000 on clothes and accessories for Palin and her family in just seven weeks. The figure includes more than $75,000 at Neiman Marcus in Minneapolis, and nearly $5,000 on hair and makeup. The funds were not just directed at the governor — about $5,000 was also spent at Atelier, a high-class shopping destination for men.

The political implications are more than a little humiliating. Consider all the McCain campaign messages a story like this steps on — “elitist,” “small-town values,” “big spender,” “relating to ‘real’ America,” etc.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, American households spend an average of $1,874 a year on clothing. The RNC spent $150,000 on one family in seven weeks. Frankly, I’m not even sure how one family can spend that much so quickly. We’re talking about an average of more than $2,000 a day, every day, since late August. (Yglesias noted, “The total bill is well over double the median household income in the United States.”)

Marc Ambinder reports that Republicans are pissed that Palin and the RNC could have let this happen.

There is already an attempt to blame the media — as in, the liberal media would have looked askance at Palin if she wasn’t clad in Neiman Marcus, but this won’t wash. Republicans, RNC donors and at least one RNC staff member have e-mailed me tonight to share their utter (and not-for-attribution) disgust at the expenditures.

This sort of spending is without precedent — the closest approximation for any campaign I’ve ever covered is make-up expenses for television interviews and commercial shoots — and Schmitt’s weakly defensive response tonight indicates that the campaign is deeply embarrassed by it and has nothing to say in their defense. Spokespeople have clammed up, a sure sign that they’re trying to figure out who authorized the expenses and who knew about them. Did Palin wear all of the clothing? Where is it kept?

The Democrats are going to have a lot more fun with this than is prudent, but the heat for this story will come from Republicans who cannot understand how their party would do something this stupid … particularly (and, it must be said, viewed retroactively) during the collapse of the financial system and the probable beginning of a recession.

And those are just Republican officials. Imagine being an RNC small donor this morning, and learning that your $20 went towards a whole new wardrobe for the Palin family, as compared to, say, helping a Republican candidate win an election. Indeed, what might “Joe the Plumber” think?

Ezra added, “Sarah Palin wasn’t a beet farmer last week. She was a governor. Presumably, she had clothing already. The sort of clothing that was appropriate for giving political speeches and attending campaign meetings. You can imagine the need for a couple new things (lots of different climates, etc), but not $150,000 for a whole new wardrobe. And not $150,000 of other people’s money for a whole new wardrobe.”

At this point, the McCain campaign’s spin machine has been very quiet, apparently still struggling to come up with a defense for this. I’m looking forward to hearing what they come up with.