Of all the gaffes committed by the late Republican presidential nominee John McCain, the worst was choosing Sarah Palin as his running mate.
McCain was down and desperate for a bump in the polls. He figured Democrat Barack Obama would trounce him unless he made a dramatic move to win over women voters.
In selecting the inexperienced and inept governor of Alaska as his potential successor, McCain shoved aside the country’s interests for selfish reasons.
He did something else, too. By turning Palin into a national figure overnight, McCain made it easy for other insiders to promote mostly unknown politicians as contenders for vice president.
This is already happening with Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who’s been New Mexico’s top officeholder for all of nine months. She previously served for six years in the U.S. House of Representatives and two years as a Bernalillo County commissioner.
Few outside New Mexico know her name or anything about her. Still, Beltway babblers say Lujan Grisham is in the mix for the country’s second-highest office.
“I’ve recently heard of people talk about her for VP,” a Washington insider recently told my colleague, Jens Erik Gould.
Talk is cheap in Washington, a city that coddles hearsay and defies logic.
The Democrats won’t select their challenger to President Donald Trump for many months. Because the nominee is unknown, it’s probably a safe bet nobody is on deck for vice president.
Mindless speculation about the vice presidency worked to the advantage of former New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Southwestern version of Palin.
Martinez was the longtime district attorney of Doña Ana County when she first ran for governor in 2010. She wasn’t intellectually curious or steeped in how to run a good government. But everything broke her way in what was a big year for Republicans.
Almost as soon as Martinez took office in 2011, various handlers and even some reporters were determined to mention her as someone who might become the Republican vice presidential nominee.
A reporter for a daily newspaper in Pennsylvania anointed Martinez, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and a few others as vice presidential contenders in February 2011. This was seven weeks after Martinez became governor and more than a year before Republicans would settle on their nominee for president.
The Pennsylvania reporter included this simple-minded paragraph in her story: “Susana Martinez? She’s Hispanic, female and a tough law-and-order conservative who came out of nowhere after four terms as district attorney in Las Crusas, (sic) New Mexico’s second-largest city, said New Mexico pollster Brian Sanderoff.”
No doubt Sanderoff cringed at the misspelling of Las Cruces. But politicians regard this kind of publicity as a plus.
By the spring of 2012, Mitt Romney was on his way to becoming the Republican presidential nominee. And Martinez’s name was included regularly in more speculative stories about who would join him on the ticket.
Martinez always had the same reaction publicly.
“It’s humbling, but I’m not interested,” she said.
Had Romney called with an offer to be his running mate, her answer probably would have been that she was humbled and so interested she would accept.
But he never asked. Martinez and the 127 others who had been mentioned as strong possibilities for vice president continued to say they never wanted the job anyway.
Some brought up John Nance Garner, a two-term vice president under Franklin Roosevelt, who supposedly said the office “is not worth a bucket of warm spit.”
Romney lost the presidential election to Obama. This was bad for most Republicans, but good for Martinez. His defeat meant she continued to be mentioned as a vice presidential contender for 2016.
Martinez, though, took herself out of the running in December 2015. She staged a loud, boozy party at a Santa Fe hotel. Some said beer bottles flew off a balcony. Police were summoned.
Martinez, speaking to an emergency dispatcher, said officers should stand down, being that she was the governor and her guests were enjoying pizza and Coca-Cola.
Her tone was officious; her speech slurred. Maybe she knew just how to end all that silly talk about her being vice presidential timber.
I’m ending it, too.
If there’s anything more useless than the office of lieutenant governor, it’s guesswork about who Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg or somebody else will choose next summer as a running mate.
Ringside Seat is an opinion column about people, politics and news. Contact Milan Simonich at email@example.com or 505-986-3080.