The phrase of the week: "Free Sarah!" As the governor of Alaska edges closer and closer to the Island of Political Punch-Lines occupied by Dan Quayle and Fred Thompson, conservatives are insisting that Palin is actually a briliant political operator who's being ruined by bad advice from Team McCain. Bill Kristol insists that McCain "needs to liberate his running mate," and all will be, as Palin says, like, really cool.
I'm told McCain recently expressed unhappiness with his staff's handling of Palin. On Sunday he dispatched his top aides Steve Schmidt and Rick Davis to join Palin in Philadelphia. They're supposed to liberate Palin to go on the offensive as a combative conservative in the vice-presidential debate on Thursday.
That's a sensible spin. The last time Palin was effective, she was reading a combative conservative speech (much of which was written for whichever VP McCain decided on) at the RNC, all slashing attacks on community organizers, high taxes, and book learnin'. But it was, you know, a speech. Like the kind Barack Obama makes, the kind that leads conservatives to mock him for jellifying without a teleprompter. If Palin's been faltering since then (hint: she has!), it's because she's not a combative conservative. She's an affable, aw-shucks conservative. That's how she got her 80 percent approval rating. Witness some of her final 2006 gubernatorial debate and see if you can locate the grenade-tosser whom Kristol is summoning.
Honestly, if that Palin shows up, conversant and unfazed, it'd be better for the ticket than her trying to launch attack lines. If Al Gore's disasters in 2000 taught us anything, it's that televised debates are not the times to try on new personalities.
The GOP has already set up a difficult, potentially no-win scenario for themselves here. Sure, if Palin is more on-point than she has been in her national TV interviews, she'll benefit. But the GOP has spent far too much time building up Joe Biden as a "gaffe-o-matic" (which he sort of is) and a bumbler whom Obama should regret choosing as his VP. Palin herself mocked the choice and said Obama should have chosen Hillary Clinton. Instead of being built up as the debating savant that he is (did he lose any of the primary debates?) he's that sad sack who's going to get mauled by the Sarahcuda.