A former Republican Secretary of State and one of John McCain's most prominent supporters offered a stunningly frank and remarkably bleak assessment of Sarah Palin's capacity to handle the presidency should such a scenario arise.
Lawrence Eagleburger, who served as Secretary of State under George H.W. Bush and whose endorsement is often trumpeted by McCain, said on Thursday that the Alaska governor is not only unprepared to take over the job on a moment's notice but, even after some time in office, would only amount to an "adequate" commander in chief.
"And I devoutly hope that [she] would never be tested," he added for good measure -- referring both to Palin's policy dexterity and the idea of McCain not making it through his time in office. (Listen to audio below.)
The remarks took place during an interview on National Public Radio that was, ironically, billed as "making the case" for a McCain presidency. Asked by the host whether Palin could step in during a time of crisis, Eagleburger reverted to sarcasm before leveling the harsh blow.
"It is a very good question," he said, pausing a few seconds, then adding with a chuckle: "I'm being facetious here. Look, of course not."
Eagleburger explained: "I don't think at the moment she is prepared to take over the reins of the presidency. I can name for you any number of other vice presidents who were not particularly up to it either. So the question, I think, is can she learn and would she be tough enough under the circumstances if she were asked to become president, heaven forbid that that ever takes place?
"Give her some time in the office and I think the answer would be, she will be [pause] adequate. I can't say that she would be a genius in the job. But I think she would be enough to get us through a four year... well I hope not... get us through whatever period of time was necessary. And I devoutly hope that it would never be tested."
The indictment of Palin was all the more biting because both she and McCain have held Eagleburger up repeatedly during the past several weeks as evidence that the Republican ticket has firm standing and support within foreign policy circles. (In fact, McCain conferred with Eagleburger by phone just this week, on matters pertaining to national security.)
In a recent co-interview on NBC, Brian Williams asked McCain and Palin "about what must have been a hurtful Sunday for you," referring to Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama and specifically to the "heart of his quote" -- Powell's claim that Palin is not "ready to be president of the United States, which is the job of vice president."
"Obviously General Powell does not know Governor Palin's record," McCain responded. "All I can say is, I see all these attacks on Governor Palin. I don't live in a bubble. But those people obviously are either not paying attention to, or don't care about the record of the most popular governor in the United States of America."
Palin interjected, citing the "five former secretaries of states" that have endorsed their campaign and see in their candidacy "the ability to win the wars and to keep our nation safe and on course."
Days later, the Arizona Senator again touted the Eagleburger endorsement during a spot on CNN. During that interview, McCain tried to downplay the significance of Colin Powell's criticisms of Palin by noting that Powell had never taken the time to understand her political gravitas.
"I especially disagreed when he said the comments that he made about Governor Palin," McCain said. "And I hope that sometime General Powell will take time out of his busy schedule to meet with her. I know she'd be pleased to meet with him."
Perhaps Eagleburger, too, should sit in on that meeting.
UPDATE: McCain is asked to respond to Eagleburger's remarks during an appearance on Good Morning America Friday. And... he's not troubled by them.
"Larry has never had a chance to meet Sarah," he says.