One of two things will happen tonight when Gov. Sarah Palin debates Sen. Joe Biden in the first and only VP debate of the campaign: either she will exceed expectations (which have been beaten down so low by those Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric interviews — helpfully distilled by the leftosphere into a convenient video summary — that at this point that she will be exceeded if her sentences contain a noun that goes with a verb) or she will mess it up and the trickle of calls for her to step down will turn into a wave.
There is no doubt that Palin is a fighter. The Washington Post today has an interesting account of Palin’s youth and her grit on the basketball court and in (literally) stormy seas. She has been hunkered down in Arizona preparing for this debate.
I will be surprised if she does not deliver coherent pre-crafted attacks on Barack Obama’s policies and record, and deflect inconvenient questions by talking up John McCain’s experience and qualifications in polished paragraphs. (If you’re looking for a debate night drinking game, how about a sip of Champagne for every mention of the word “elite” — as in, liberal elite, media elite, Washington, elite. etc.) Similarly, Joe Biden can be expected to focus on McCain as much as he can in his answers. He is being coached to studiously avoid going after Palin so as to not come across as the bullying man (see Lazio, R. v. Clinton, H.) (A shot for every mention of the word “Bush,” or “McCain-Bush,” or “Bush-McCain.”)
But whether they get away with these strategies will depend a great deal on the questions from debate moderator, Gwen Ifill, a regular on PBS’s NewsHour. Palin Ifill has come under fire from Republicans in the last day or two for having a book in the works entitled “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama,” slated to be published on Inauguration Day. The book profiles several post-civil rights era politicians. Republicans have a legitimate point that she stands to sell more copies if Obama wins. But that doesn’t mean she’s incapable of posing tough questions to both sides.
The book was no secret, but apparently she did not mention it to the debate commission. If I were Biden, I would not be too happy about this either. Ifill is now under tremendous pressure to show that she will be tough on Biden. And if the McCain campaign doesn’t like Ifill’s questions, they can cry bias.
Polls are suggesting that despite the huge crowds she draws to rallies, and the passions she excites among the Republican base, Palin is becoming a drag on the ticket among independent voters.
She’s been getting criticism from some conservatives. McCain has dismissed them as “Georgetown cocktail person who calls himself a conservative…” I don’t know how George Will or David Frum feeel about that characterization. (It’s interesting that some of the same people who are turning on Palin also turned against George W. Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court as an unqualified crony appointment. She was forced to withdraw from consideration, but in that case social conservatives also turned against her. And Palin still has their strong support.)