It's easy to get wrapped up in this expectations game with the debates, but I wonder does anybody apart from real political junkies really care whether or not Sarah Palin exceeded her minimal expectations? I actually kind of doubt it. Thinking back to the day that McCain announced her pick, I think we all had kind of an "oh, shit" moment that maybe this pick was just off-the-wall enough to shift the race in McCain's favor. Pretty soon after that, we started to ask ourselves how this relative newcomer could ever hold up against the loquacious and extremely knowledgeable Joe Biden. We figured that she probably couldn't, and whatever her strengths she was unlikely to win that debate. She gave a barn-burner of a convention speech (although in reality it was just a petty and juvenile attack against a far superior candidate).
But pretty quickly after that the wheels started coming off the Straight Talk Express. We learned that Palin didn't know the Bush Doctrine. We learned that she couldn't name any newspapers or magazines that she read. We learned that she couldn't discuss a single Supreme Court case other than Roe v. Wade. We found out about her surreal family drama and her personal vendettas and abuses of power as Governor. She gave rambling and incoherent answers to relatively easy questions about the most pressing political issues of the day. She ludicrously claimed that she had spent the last few years standing guard up in Alaska against Putin and his rearing head. She lied, got caught lying, and continued to lie about the Bridge to Nowhere. And slowly but surely Sarah Palin became a laughingstock and a real drag on the Republican ticket. It got to the point that we just couldn't take her seriously anymore. We started to expect more and more silliness from her every time she opened her mouth. But this was really pretty unrealistic. Nobody can be that dumb all the time
, and the highly structured debate format was going to prevent her from falling totally to pieces.
Instead, I think what happened tonight is that our initial read on Palin was proven to be correct. She didn't embarrass herself, but she clearly lacked the knowledge and gravitas to share a stage with Joe Biden. He was forceful, direct, and highly, highly informed. She (literally) announced that she was just going to ignore questions that she didn't feel like answering and reverted time and time again to a series of sound bites that had been drilled into her, which she strung together in largely incoherent sequences that ran the clock out. She tried to conceal her ignorance with folksiness and cutesiness, but there was no substance to her. In sum, she exhibited all the weaknesses we always knew she had. And she lost. Just like we always knew she would.
There can be no more talk about her stealing away disenchanted Clinton voters. Palin has failed to change the dynamic of this race, which is what McCain picked her to do. McCain is trying wackier and wackier stunts to shake up this race, but so far all of his Hail Mary passes have fallen short. And the more he tries them, the riskier and less stable he seems. At this point, it's hard to see what cards he has left to play. It's basically over.