Sarah Palin might not give a good interview, and John McCain's advisers might not trust her to give a press conference, but in a highly structured debate like the one we are going to see on Thursday night, she has the ability to be dominant.
Because the format allows for very little give-and-take between Palin and Joe Biden, her "values"-oriented debating style stands a good chance of succeeding. The central feature of her debate style is that rather than getting bogged down in facts and specifics, she instead says what she is for and what she is against using terms like "healthier," "stronger," "more prosperous," and "fairer."
Andrew Halcro, who has debated her, explains his experiences debating Palin:
I've debated Governor Palin more than two dozen times. And she's a master, not of facts, figures, or insightful policy recommendations, but at the fine art of the nonanswer, the glittering generality. Against such charms there is little Senator Biden, or anyone, can do.
That sounds like a backhanded compliment, and perhaps it is, but that doesn't change the fact that Palin's debating style works, as you can see for yourself in this video that I edited together.
For the video, I looked at her past debates and randomly grabbed six answers that I thought were pretty good. These weren't cherry-picked answers, they were just the first six answers that I thought she handled effectively. (I only rejected one answer in which I felt she was too defensive about her experience.)
Given the debate's format on Thursday night, I expect Palin will do just fine. I will be quite surprised if she gets caught off guard or has a moose-in-headlights moment.
I don't think she'll display much in the way of specifics, but she will get the values-oriented language right, and that should be good enough at least for a draw, and that will mean she beats expectations.
Of course, the real political issue in the debate isn't whether or not Palin meets or beats expectations, it's whether she is able to make a case for John McCain that John McCain hasn't yet been able to make for himself.
That's something no vice presidential candidate in history has been able to do, and should serve as a reminder that in the end, this election is still between Barack Obama and John McCain.