Sarah Palin, rage whisperer

As a senior adviser to the McCain-Palin campaign in 2008, I understand why, to this day, Senator McCain remains gracious toward Ms. Palin. Despite her shortcomings, she brought out the largest crowds that we’d seen since the campaign started. Voters stood for hours on the rope line to meet her. Her legacy lies in her innate ability to wrap herself in the anger that those voters felt. While Senator McCain seemed slightly unnerved by the intensity of their discontent, Ms. Palin basked in it.

I stood backstage at a rally in Minnesota in October 2008 where Senator McCain took the microphone from a woman in the crowd who spoke about her fears, including that Barack Obama was “an Arab.” Senator McCain said, “No, ma’am,” and explained that Mr. Obama was a good and decent family man and an American with whom he simply disagreed on policy matters. This interaction will go down as one of the finest moments from one of the country’s finest men. But it was also an early warning that the Republican base was profoundly agitated.

To some in the news media, voter anger seems like a new phenomenon. But they attended the same Palin rallies I did — we all should have seen this coming. The Alaska governor whipped the crowds into a frenzy with her fiery attacks on the media and the establishment politicians that she had gleefully upended in the Alaska statehouse. When her rallygoers shouted crude comments from the stands, as the woman at the Minnesota rally had done, there was no confrontation between Ms. Palin and the offender. When the press started to report on the angry rhetoric coming from those Palin crowds, I remember Senator McCain’s concern. The growing furor in the Republican Party was something that we, as a campaign, failed to address, but to the crowds, Sarah Palin proved the more satisfying politician on the ticket because of it.