Palin Survives Expectations

John McCain supporter Cliff Dunn joins The Flat Hat Election 2008 blogging team with an analysis of last Thursday’s vice presidential debate

Sarah Palin’s performance last Thursday night was interesting. She didn’t make any blunders (neither did Joe Biden, even if Biden seemed to be visibly holding back at times), which seems to have been enough in the media’s eyes. Whether this was enough in the eyes of the public, however, remains to be seen.

Palin’s style didn’t impress me, but there are a lot of people who I suspect it did (mainly the evangelicals she’s been energizing). This is my personal tastes showing through more than anything, though.

The key with last night’s debate is that the expectations were low enough that the media can get away with declaring a dual victory; usually, there has to be a winner and a loser. Dual victories can distinguished from ties by two things: The lack of other candidates in the room, allowing for other losers; and differing objectives, letting both candidates achieve what they ‘need’ to (as determined by the media).

Both did this. Biden won on substance (which he was expected to), and Palin seems to have won on style (I suspect that the shout-out to a third-grade class played well in proverbial Peoria). Neither scored any particularly memorable zingers on the other (Palin’s best line was a zinger on the moderator, while Biden had a decent line … which I can’t recall for the life of me. Must not have been memorable.), and neither made any gaffes. Biden didn’t blow a fuse (as much as his face said he probably wanted to), and Palin, while coming across as folksy, avoided any big slip-ups (i.e. Ford’s “no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe” moment).

Palin beat expectations partly because the expectations were so low (and I believe the low expectations did save her. Had she had higher expectations it would have been a rout). She managed to avoid any gaffes, and came across as at least somewhat competent. That’s what she seems to have needed to do, and I suspect it stopped the bleeding that the Couric interview was causing. However, I’ll also come out and state that I don’t think she won over gobs of new voters last night, but mainly reinforced those she already held for the ticket. Fortunately for her, Biden did much of the same.

For fair disclosure, I’ve been iffy about the Palin pick from the get-go. First I was scratching my head, then I was satisfied, then I was groaning. I’m still not thrilled with her, but…this campaign could have been over last night, and it isn’t, so this could be far worse.


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