Palin Wasn’t Just Being a Diva

From Todd S. Purdum’s new Vanity Fair profile of Sarah Palin:

When aides went to load McCain’s concession speech into the teleprompter, they found a concession speech for Palin—written by Bush speechwriter Matthew Scully, who had also been the principal drafter of her convention speech—already on the system. Schmidt and Salter told Palin that there was no tradition of Election Night speeches by running mates, and that she wouldn’t be giving one. Palin was insistent. “Are those John’s wishes?” she asked. They were, she was told. But Palin took the issue to McCain himself, raising it on the walk from his suite to the outdoor rally. Again the answer was no.

A defense of Sarah Palin—sort of—is in order here. McCain’s refusal to allow her to make her own concession speech was widely discussed after last November’s election, and the prevailing view was that Palin had behaved like a diva. After all, who ever heard of a running mate giving an Election Night speech?

Well … actually, concession (or victory) speeches from running mates are pretty standard. Here’s the history since 1988:

1988

Winning VP candidate: Dan Quayle

Election Night speech: Appearing in a Washington ballroom after George H. W. Bush declared victory, Quayle promised the crowd that “I won't rest ever in my determination to serve our next president, George Bush. You have truly made this the most memorable night of our lives.”

Losing VP candidate: Lloyd Bentsen

Election Night speech: Delivered from the Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas, where he told supporters that he and Michael Dukakis “waged a campaign that's worthy of the American people. He made me proud to be his partner. He made me proud to be his running mate and he made me proud to be an American.” Bentsen didn’t appear in Boston with Dukakis because he was also a candidate for reelection to the Senate in Texas (a race he won over Republican Beau Boulter).

1992

Winning VP candidate: Al Gore

Election Night speech: Joined Bill Clinton at the Old State House in Little Rock and, addressing the crowd before Clinton, said: ''He believes in the rights of people, but he believes in the responsibility of citizens as well. We feel good tonight having won. Think about how we will feel when we change a country.”

Losing VP candidate: Quayle

Election Night speech: Appeared with Bush and told a crowd in Houston that if Clinton ran the country nearly as well as he ran his campaign, “the country will be fine.”

1996

Winning VP candidate: Gore

Election Night speech: Back at the Old State House in Little Rock, Gore again led the festivities off, saying: “Much has changed since we last gathered here, and it has changed because of the strength and resolve of the American people under Bill Clinton's leadership.”

Losing VP candidate: Jack Kemp

Election Night speech: At the Costa Mesa Hotel in Malibu (far from his running mate, Bob Dole), Kemp told a packed ballroom that “the ideas of this campaign will live on and I pledge to continue to advance these ideas upon which the future of this nation depends.”

2000

Because of the bizarre circumstances of Election night, no victory or concession speeches by any candidates were offered until well into December.

2004

Winning VP candidate: Dick Cheney

Election Night speech: Well, it was the afternoon after the election (Ohio delayed the final verdict until the early morning hours), but Cheney shared the stage with George W. Bush at a Washington, D.C., victory rally, using his speech to jokingly take credit for delivering the state of Wyoming to the G.O.P. column.

Losing VP candidate: John Edwards

Election Night speech: Again, it was actually the day after, but Edwards joined John Kerry onstage in Boston and delivered the first concession speech; in it, he tried to assure bitter Democrats that he and Kerry would make sure every vote was counted in Ohio, even though they were officially conceding the race.

So, Palin’s assumption that she’d get to deliver an Election Night speech was actually well grounded—and the declarations of Steve Schmidt and Mark Salter (repeated ad nauseam by reporters like Purdum) that there was no precedent for a running-mate speech were thoroughly baseless.

Of course, this doesn’t completely exonerate Palin. Her assumption that she’d be speaking could still have been grounded in narcissism and self-importance; it’s completely plausible that she—like Salter and Schmidt and so many reporters—was unaware of the history of Election Night activity by running mates. And the fact that she confronted McCain personally as he was about to make his own concession speech doesn’t look very good, either.

Still, her exclusion from an Election Night speaking role (and Joe Biden’s, too) is an exception to recent history—not the rule.