ST. PAUL--Suppose Sarah Palin had somehow ended up as the Republican presidential nominee this year. Suppose she’d picked John McCain as her running mate. And suppose he’d given the speech he did tonight. You know what people would be saying? “Crap. She should have gone with Giuliani.”
McCain’s speech wasn’t a total failure. He hit all the big talking points of this convention and his candidacy—the POW years, his reformer credentials, how great it’ll be to drill baby drill, Barack Obama’s alleged narcisissism—and when he did, the crowd responded with reasonable shows of enthusiasm. On one or two occasions, they even seemed genuinely excited. For most of the speech, though, I felt like I was watching a third-tier convention event for an outgoing GOP luminary (“Today at 3 p.m., A Tribute to John McCain: Celebrating a really long time in the Senate!”). McCain’s voice was weak, a problem he exacerbated by repeatedly speaking into lingering applause. He looked old. And he seemed tired. According to my internal Crowd-o-Meter, there was about ¼ the energy in the Xcel Center when McCain was speaking—if that—that there was during Sarah Palin’s speech last night.
To be fair, McCain seemed to get slightly looser and slightly more energetic (but only slightly!) as the speech progressed. Also, it's possible that undecided voters watching at home dug his references to recent Republican failures and bipartisanship to come. (For what it's worth, those parts of the speech helped tamp down the mood inside the hall even further.) But I’m guessing that most of them saw an elderly dude whose best years are behind him. Not the ending the GOP was hoping for.