Which brings us to Sarah Palin.
Shortly after she was picked for the GOP vice presidential nomination four years ago, I wrote—in a blog post that appears to be lost to the ages—that if it failed, Republicans would learn learn the wrong lesson from that failure—and see the problem more in Palin's gender than in her obvious deficiencies as a national-level candidate. Via Jonathan Chait, we see that's precisely what happened:
"I think, unfortunately, Palin poisoned the well on that," said one informal Romney adviser, fretting that any woman selected as VP would draw inevitable comparisons to the former Alaska governor. "I would guess if I were inside the Romney mind that they're worried that any woman chosen will be subjected to a higher level of scrutiny. "It's true that some of the attacks on Palin were sexist. However: Palin was subjected to a fair amount of scrutiny for a couple of reasons: A) She was largely unknown at the national level when John McCain selected her as his running mate. B) She avoided interactions with the press, making it appear she had something to hide. C) When she did sit down for in-depth interviews, it sure looked as though she wasn't adequately prepared for federal governance. She invited scrutiny precisely because she had never before been scrutinized.
If McCain had selected Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson—which wouldn't have happened for other political reasons—the dynamic would've been different. Yes, there would've been scrutiny on her as the first national female GOP candidate, but she was also a known quantity who would've been prepared to discuss federal issues.
But the lesson Republicans have learned from Palin's candidacy isn't: "Unprepared candidates are bad candidates," or "Polarizing candidates are polarizing" but "women are bad candidates." That's kind of sexist, but mostly it's dumb—and, if true, will deprive the party of some of its best and most energetic talent. Which is even dumber.