Bill Kristol defended yet again of the choice of Sarah Palin as McCain's Vice President during a breakfast conference on Thursday. But the prominent neoconservative pundit and Weekly Standard editor did make one small concession: had John McCain tapped Sen. Joseph Lieberman for his number-two post, the results could have been just as good, if not better for the GOP ticket.
Speaking at a National Journal 2008 campaign retrospective event, Kristol argued that had the Connecticut Independent been the Republican vice presidential nominee, McCain would have lost "20 percent of the vote at the convention," staff would have "left the campaign," there would have been protests on the convention floor, and the news media would have been obsessed with the inter-party friction for a solid month.
Nevertheless, he added, "I think it could have been managed and it could have ended up net-net by the time of the election. But that is a very tough choice to make in real time..."
Kristol had, in fact, made the suggestion that McCain choose Lieberman as his VP in the period leading up to the convention. But he is best known as one of the media's most vocal Palin cheerleaders, once urging McCain to fire his entire campaign staff in part for mishandling the Alaska Governor.
During the event Kristol debated the notion -- put forward by Democratic Pollster Stan Greenberg and confirmed by most empirical data -- that Palin was a drag on the Republican ticket. He acknowledged that the governor lost McCain some votes, "mostly blue state swing voters," but added that she gave McCain "at least a shot of getting the Electoral College votes he needed in states like Ohio."
Speaking earlier, Greenberg noted that in nearly every poll he had examined the top reason for voting against McCain was his choice of Palin. He argued that another choice, like Tim Pawlenty or Mitt Romney, would have made the election closer.
"I was very nervous about this election going into the Democratic convention when they were focused on national security and safety issues. Had they kept those core ideas... through the economic crisis, they would have been much stronger," Greenberg explained. "But they gave up experience, they lost fundamental points by choosing her."
McCain's pollster, Bill McInturf, was the last to speak and took umbrage with Greenberg's analysis. Arguing that Palin brought important features to the campaign -- enthusiasm and money, primarily -- he echoed Kristol in saying there would have absolutely been a crisis on the convention floor had McCain chosen Lieberman.
"Do you want to spend three to six weeks after this convention talking about the Republican Party or moving on," McInturf said he told McCain. "My point in the room was that it would be at least three straight weeks of discussion on the Republican coalition."
All of the panelists, including Democratic strategist Ruy Teixeira, said Palin would be a major player for the Republican presidential nominee in 2012.