Sarah Palin can win the vice presidential debate before she even hits the stage, and the McCain campaign knows it.
The plan is risky, but their aim is to conquer the expectations game. They beat expectations at the convention when they unveiled her before millions of Americans who were incredulous about her experience, abilities and obviously unvetted background. That speech, delivered only a month ago, capped off a week of bad press... bad press that made Palin's success on the stage inevitable as long as she didn't throw up on the teleprompter.
Just look at some of the articles and events anticipating her speech - they ran the gamut. The New York Times published an article that laid out how the McCain camp had failed to vet Palin. The next day conservative pundits Peggy Noonan and Mike Murphy were caught on an open mic saying, respectively, that the Palin pick was "political bullshit" and "gimmicky."
The bar is even lower now for Thursday night. Palin's interviews with Katie Couric on CBS broke through the wall-to-wall bailout coverage simply because they're so cringe-inducing. They became more ratings-gold for Tina Fey, and were part of the conversation on Monday even as the financial crisis came to a head in the halls of Congress.
Palin's remarks to Couric revealed her broad lack of knowledge on many of the issues that one needs to know when you're a heartbeat away from the presidency. She also showed a terrible ability to naturally dispense memorized information, even talking points that have been repeated numerous times by other McCain surrogates. Her answer on why Russia's proximity to Alaska gives her foreign policy experience was among the worst. She failed to convince Couric and the audience of a key argument, albeit a completely mind-numbing one.
Democrats weren't the only ones tearing their hair out after Palin's interviews. Conservatives came out to brace themselves against the tide of growing disapproval. National Review columnist Kathleen Parker called for Palin to step down since she's "out of her league." And Mike Murphy, a former McCain adviser, told The New York Times that Palin's recent performances were only helping his argument that she was a tainted choice.
Now that we expect Palin's debate performance to be disastrous, she only has room to surprise us, just like she did in Minnesota. McCain senior adviser Nicolle Wallace couldn't have said it better: "I seriously hope that people continue to underestimate the most popular governor in America and a woman who speaks to the heart of America's economic angst."