Sarah Palin’s VP Debate Crash Course

Posted: September 30, 2008 in 2008 Elections, Debates, John McCain, Sarah Palin
Tags: , , ,


Sarah Palin practicing for the VP debate with McCain aide Randy Schuenemann
Image courtesy of the McCain campaign, via Politico.

Republicans are probably not going to find too much comfort in reading stories like these in the Wall Street Journal. The whole thing is worth taking the time to read but these excerpts stand out:

The McCain campaign moved its top officials inside Gov. Sarah Palin’s operation Sunday to prepare for what is certain to be the most important event of her vice-presidential campaign: her debate on Thursday with Democrat Joe Biden.

The moves follow several shaky performances by Gov. Palin last week and come amid concern and grumbling from Republicans, and even a few queries from her husband, Todd Palin, according to campaign operatives and Republican officials.

Meanwhile, the more experienced advisers assigned to her by the McCain campaign are accustomed to working with seasoned candidates, not someone “completely green on the national stage,” one strategist said. Several Republican backers have griped that the campaign has put the candidate in difficult situations, from sitting for high-profile television interviews to popping into meetings with foreign leaders, some of whom made sexist remarks, said several officials.

Amid the heavy scrutiny in a close campaign, Gov. Palin is under considerable pressure to make Thursday’s debate a “game changer,” advisers said. The campaign is sending in Sen. McCain’s debate coach, Brett O’Donnell, to help with her preparation, advisers said. Though he always was expected to help out after Sen. McCain’s debate Friday in Oxford, Miss., Mr. O’Donnell now needs to “undo” much of her previous debate prep, which has resulted in occasional “rote” responses, one adviser said.

As if the thought of Sarah Palin going one-on-one with Joe Biden for 90 minutes before millions of television viewers weren’t nerve-wracking enough, it turns out that CBS may have more embarrassing Palin responses from the Katie Couric interview it will air in the days leading up to the VP debate later this week. The key detail, from this story by Politico’s Jonathan Martin:

Of concern to McCain’s campaign, however, is a remaining and still-undisclosed clip from Palin’s interview with Couric last week that has the political world buzzing.

The Palin aide, after first noting how “infuriating” it was for CBS to purportedly leak word about the gaffe, revealed that it came in response to a question about Supreme Court decisions.

After noting Roe vs. Wade, Palin was apparently unable to discuss any major court cases.

There was no verbal fumbling with this particular question as there was with some others, the aide said, but rather silence.

Now it looks like McCain’s people need to give her a crash course on national security, Supreme Court history and constitutional law, and the economy. They will be in the unenviable position of going into the debate hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

Update: The McCain campaign released the photo of Palin practicing for the debate with McCain foreign policy aide Randy Schuenemann after I posted this, so I’ve added it retroactively.

Also, the New York Times has a story on Palin’s debate prep. The following graphs are worth noting:

Ms. Palin has traveled with a briefing team since Sept. 10. Two people close to the campaign, addressing her difficulties, said she had been stuffed with facts as if preparing for an oral exam and had become nervous and unnatural in the few interviews.

Advisers said she was a diligent worker and was frequently up until the small hours of the morning in her hotel room trying to cram as much information as possible before the debate.

I know there’s no way anyone can ever be absolutely 100 percent prepared for a nationally televised debate, but is it feasible to think that late night cram sessions are going to help her at this point? This is the vice presidency of the United States that’s at stake, not a college midterm.

While both campaigns are playing the expectations game and raising or lowering the bars for the two candidates, Politico has this interesting study of Palin’s past debate performances. In essence: she can hold her own and Democrats would be foolish to think she’s a pushover just because she’s been a disaster in two out of the three nationally televised interviews she’s done since being tapped as McCain’s running mate.

The conventional wisdom and expectations are in Joe Biden’s favor, but as numerous articles have pointed out, he needs to avoid appearing condescending or indignant whenever Palin makes a mistake. A note from the only other vice presidential debate with a female candidate: George H.W. Bush ran into a mild backlash after an exchange he had with Geraldine Ferraro during the 1984 campaign.

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