10/21/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Women in McCain's Life

In 10 days Sarah Palin's standing has crashed an awesome 24 points, with a clear majority now having a negative opinion of the Alaska Governor. This kind of free fall is more reminiscent of, say, Tom Cruise's cratering popularity after jumping up and down on Oprah Winfrey's couch and yelling at Brooke Shields; or perhaps Michael Jackson's after his child molestation trial. It certainly is not what you would look for in a vice-presidential running mate, someone steady, reliable and whom voters are, at worst, completely indifferent to (perhaps Joe Biden.)

This is what happens when you pick a "fresh face" who becomes instantly best known for being an even bigger liar than the head of the ticket. It may be that her inexperience, inarticulateness and defensiveness are not deal-breakers for a people who voted for George W. Bush twice. But the out-and-out lying and the whiff of corruption that accompanies it, that is probably too much.

Palin was supposed to save the Republican ticket in two principal ways: rallying the Christian right, and drawing disgruntled Democratic and unaffiliated women towards the GOP. It may be that she succeeded in the former goal, although it is a measure of John McCain's desperation that just a few weeks before the general election he is still trying to rally the right-wing core of his party in places like Indiana and North Carolina.

As far as making the ticket more attractive to women, the Palin pick has had the reverse effect, boldly underlining McCain's patronizing attitudes. By now, 75% of voters view the pick as "political," seeing right through the GOP's sad ploy to try to ride Hillary Clinton's coattails; only 17% say she was chosen because she is "qualified." This matters enormously because the corollary to such a political move is that a more qualified choice could have been made. Now, assuming it had to be a woman, clearly the pickings are slim in a party whose congressional delegation is made up of over 90% of middle-aged and older white men. There are only eight women who are GOP senators or governors, but seven of them are better qualified than Palin, the governor of Alaska. Unfortunately for McCain, all of these women are pro-choice with the exception of Palin and Elizabeth Dole, who is even older than McCain. And by McCain's calculation, it was better to pick an utterly unqualified anti-choice running mate than a qualified pro-choice one. Country first, right?

In general, the women in McCain's political life are few and far between, and after this week even fewer. Carly Fiorina, who nearly ran Hewlett-Packard into the ground, has been banished from her job as chief economic advisor to McCain after confirming what we all know: neither he nor Palin are remotely qualified to run the US government. Meg Whitman, a successful entrepreneur, has all but disappeared from the McCain campaign, perhaps stunned that her first choice for president, Mitt Romney, wasn't picked as the GOP running mate.

There are so few Republican women, even fewer willing to come to McCain's rescue, and yet fewer with any kind of credibility that the campaign recently had to resort to Jane Swift, a former unelected governor of Massachusetts, to spearhead the "attacking Palin is sexist" strategy that has backfired so badly. Besides being the first Governor to give birth in office, Swift is best known for being forced out of the GOP gubernatorial primary by Romney and because "when the demands of [child-rearing and governing...] both increase substantially, something has to give." So much for the successful juggle.

McCain's newest supporter among women is Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild, whose claim to fame outside of Bergdorf-Goodman is that she is a former Clintonista who now supports the Republican candidate because, she says, he is for "the rednecks" and Obama is not. McCain sure knows how to pick 'em. We probably won't be hearing much from Lady de Rothschild anymore.

This leaves us with Cindy and Meghan McCain, a thin-skinned, entitled, rich mother-daughter team that hardly pays homage to working women anywhere. It is a measure of McCain's wife's sheltered existence that she believes her recent appearance on The View (!) was like getting "her bones picked clean." You would think this would pale in comparison to being publicly called a "c***" and a "trollop" by her husband, but maybe she is more used to the latter. As for her daughter, she is keeping busy pulling strings for Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt (you won't know who they are unless you read Star magazine) to visit Iraq; she knows this is critically important because, in her own words, "no one knows what war is like other than my family. Period."

What exactly McCain and Palin think they can do for American women remains a mystery. Clearly not all women are pro-choice, and not all pro-choice women vote singularly on the issue (one recent survey listed ten other issues that women found more important than abortion.) Nonetheless, a ticket that is the most anti-choice in recent memory is not a good start, even symbolically, considering over half of women voters believe abortion should be legal. How extreme is the ticket on this issue? Palin would have a young girl who has been raped pay for the rape kit and force her by law to keep the child. On issues on which there is the biggest gender gap (those which are disproportionately more important to women than to men), the McCain/Palin positions are dismal. The GOP's environment platform is best summarized by the frighteningly stupid (even for Republicans) "drill baby drill" mantra that now rises every time energy is mentioned, especially by Palin, who has not met an oil patch she doesn't love. Next is health care, to which McCain wants to apply the same principles that have guided his approach to banking and financial markets: now that is something to really look forward to considering how successful that's been. On the fuzzy concept of "moral issues," the McCain/Palin campaign of the past couple of weeks has clearly shown this is not a sure winner for them either, since the blunt lying can hardly be ranked up there as a moral value. Of course, the main issue for most voters currently is the economy. In this case, a majority of men and women are now in agreement that McCain can do nothing for them, since he believes that the economy is fundamentally strong, which is exactly what it is not.

It has taken a couple of weeks for it to sink in, but the Palin launch has failed miserably: she has gone from being unknown to being known for her incompetence, her lack of experience, and her dishonesty. The opportunity to define her as the corruption-fighting warrior-mom that she is not has evaporated forever, or at least for the few weeks that remain until the election. From being McCain's savior, she has become his downfall, crushing any remaining crumbs of reputation McCain may have had for good, objective, non-partisan judgment.