Palin Asks: Why Not the Best?

Most everybody is enjoying a moment of hilarity at the expense of Sarah Palin, who returned to type after a mild-mannered and self-deprecating appearance on the Today show by suggesting that Rep. Allen West of FL would be an ideal running-mate for Mitt Romney.

West, as you may know, has more or less supplanted Michele Bachmann–who toned the craziness down just a notch in order to run for president–as the most quotable wingnut in the U.S. House of Representatives. When in February Think Progress compiled a list of West’s “most outrageous statements,” they had so much material that they didn’t stop at the usual “top ten,” but included fifteen.

But ridiculous as the idea of Romney-West undoubtedly is, it’s worth paying a bit of attention to Palin’s rationale for West, as explained to Sean Hannity:

[W]hen I talk about going rogue, what I want to do is encourage the GOP nominee to not think that they have to go with somebody necessarily safe that conventional wisdom perhaps would lead somebody to believe that, if it’s somebody, quote-unquote, safe, that they’re not going to get beat up by the media, because no matter who it is.”

“They’re going to get beat up,” Hannity agreed.

“They’re going to get clobbered. The media will make things up about them and their record and their reputations and their families,” Palin said. “So no matter who it is, so they might as well get someone who is passionate and strong, as I say, like about Allen West, understands the Constitution and wants to put government back on the side of the people.”

The planted axiom here is that since “the media” are going to make any running-mate sound as crazy as West, GOPers might as well go with the real thing, which is what they actually want. To put it another way, the only possible reason for choosing a more conventional figure is deception.

In her peculiar way, Palin has put her finger on one of the central dynamics of the 2012 Republican presidential contest. Conservative voters have tried and tried and tried to find a candidate who authentically represents their views, only to discover, in turn, that each (Perry with his heart bleeding for the children of undocumented workers, Newt with his global warming and individual mandate heresies, Santorum with his support for No Child Left Behind, the Medicare Rx drug benefit and earmarks) wasn’t much more of a “true conservative” than Mitt Romney. So they are stuck with Mitt, dammit, but have one more chance to get a loud-and-proud champion on the ticket. And so as Jimmy Carter once asked Democrats: “Why not the best?” Why not West?

I am sure that more powerful figures than Palin will put the kibosh on that specific idea, but the fact remains that of all the criteria that are getting kicked around in the early Veep speculation, the demand for a “true conservative” is going to be the hardest for Mitt to resist. And for all the talk of “vetting” candidates to make sure someone better prepared and more controllable than Palin winds up on the ticket, the most important vetting is going to be conducted by dissatisfied right-wing activists. Allen West makes perfect sense as their opening bid.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.