It was surprising to learn on Wednesday (29 August) that Sarah Palin was persona non grata at the various funeral or memorial celebrations for John McCain. Some reports described her as being not merely left uninvited, but positively asked to stay away; it was also reported that invitations were extended on Monday with a request for a reply by Tuesday, which suggests that there were some potential invitees who might have been invited only on Tuesday or Wednesday, when space became available as regrets were sent, so Palin seems not to have been included, or not to have ranked very highly, even among that group.
It is unclear how and when Palin became aware that she was being shut out of the various events; at the latest she learned, along with the rest of us, on Wednesday, when the story broke; conceivably she had been hoping, up to that point, that an invitation might yet arrive.
Apparently Palin never visited McCain after his diagnosis in July 2017, but still felt that they were on good terms personally in May 2018, when his second thoughts about picking her became known.
McCain often criticized fellow Republicans. That is an important reason why he was unpopular with the base of the party, and the main reason why he was popular with the mainstream media. During his presidential campaigns McCain used to refer jokingly to the media as his base.
McCain never insulted Palin, although he certainly hurt her feelings by expressing regret, in a memoir published in May, that he had not chosen his friend Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, then an Independent caucusing with Democrats, instead; he recalled advisors pointing out that Lieberman was pro-abortion and counseling against the choice for that reason, and concluded: “It was sound advice…. But my gut told me to ignore it and I wish I had.” Palin soon thereafter admitted that it hit her “like a perpetual gut-punch” every time she saw that report, but she also expressed some doubt whether McCain actually regretted picking her: “I attribute a lot of what we’re hearing and reading regarding McCain’s statements to his ghostwriter or ghostwriters” (https://tinyurl.com/y9rmheaw).
We’ll never know how McCain felt about Palin; by the time he expressed some regret about picking her, his brain was ravaged with cancer and the treatments, so it does not seem a clear indication of how he felt before he became sick. The case is similar with the exclusion of Palin from the observances; if that decision goes back to McCain, it was a decision rendered by him when he was very ill, and so it does not tell us how McCain viewed Palin when he was healthy.
McCain is neither on tape nor reported to have ever said a word in disparagement of Palin, just as she has never said anything negative about him. Over time, as the Tea Party came into existence in response to the passage of Obamacare and Palin associated herself with it, it became clear just how far apart McCain and Palin were politically: he was part of the GOP Establishment, and she favored the insurgents. But their situation in different parts of the Republican party made their failure to attack each other, either on the basis of the past or on the basis of current events, all the more conspicuous; at most one or the other would rather dispassionately acknowledge that they had a current difference of opinion with respect to some issue or candidate.
It seems possible—especially since it was reported, long before his death, that McCain did not want President Trump at his funeral, while no such affront to Palin was even rumored—that the decision to exclude Palin was not taken by McCain himself, but by his family.
Possibly members of the McCain family have convinced themselves that Palin was a drag on the ticket, and blame her for McCain not becoming President. That said, McCain could have done better than he did if he had been a more effective candidate. And it is a fact that there was much more public interest in 2008 in the Republican vice presidential nominee than in the Republican presidential nominee: Palin got bigger crowds than McCain, something which had never happened in the history of the country, and for that very reason McCain and Palin began to make joint appearances, a complete departure from tradition.
One could argue that many people voted Democrat out of an aversion for Sarah Palin, but many other people voted Democrat out of an aversion for McCain, and there is no way of determining which one repelled more people. McCain was never popular with the base of the party, and there is much anecdotal evidence for Republicans and independents voting for McCain only because he picked Palin; indeed, if we judge by the size of the crowds at rallies which they conducted singly, it would have to be said that McCain was a drag on Palin, not the other way around.
But just suppose for an instant that the evidence of the crowds were reversed, and McCain had drawn larger crowds, what would that prove? Not much, since every presidential nominee before him had outdrawn his vice presidential nominee, so the smaller crowd size would simply reflect the fact that the vice presidential nominee was a less important person, not prove that the vice presidential nominee hurt the ticket.
Given the enthusiasm for Palin and the lack of enthusiasm for McCain in the Republican base, it seems very likely that Palin caused more Republicans and Republican-leaning independents to support McCain than Republicans and independents to abandon McCain. Even if it could be shown, however, that Palin had cost the Republican ticket more votes than she gained for it, ultimately the fault for that state of affairs would rest with McCain, who had selected her as his running mate.
It is ironic that Joe Biden was not only invited, but allowed to speak at the initial observance in Arizona, since he was the nemesis of Palin as the 2008 Democrat vice presidential nominee. That circumstance, arguably, is true to the spirit of the decedent, who always showed a deference toward Democrats which he never exhibited toward Republicans. Although Biden and McCain were Senate colleagues for 22 years, the embrace of such a figure by the McCain family seems strange nevertheless.