[I]t seems to be a win-win for McCain.
The Palin obsession — which she has fed by going on a media tour and returning to the Lower 48 for the RGA meeting — obscures the mistakes McCain made in his own campaign (though some would say one of those was in picking the Alaska governor). The central debate in the GOP is not now what typically takes place after a party loses — what the candidate did wrong or whether he ran too far to the left, right or middle.
Instead, it’s entirely forward-looking, and based around whether Palin represents the future of the party. McCain will have a voice in this, yes, but the base of the party never cared much for him and McCain himself never has shown much interest in being a party leader. So now, as the battle over Palin begins, McCain can quietly begin to reclaim his own legacy and place in public life. That begins tonight with an appearance on Leno and will accelerate as he re-engages in the Senate.
It is distinctly odd that he and the ‘Cuda have been in contact regularly, by her own admission, yet he hasn’t thought to speak up publicly in her defense until tonight’s tete-a-tete with Leno. Which makes me wonder: What would he have to say to convince you guys that he’s not simply going through the motions in praising her? He’s sure to declare that she was a great running mate, an inspiration to the base, a mavericky reformist maverick reformer — all standard palaver thus far. What could he do to up the ante? Threaten to out the people who are leaking if they don’t straighten up and fly right? Pronounce her the presumptive nominee for 2012?
Re: the latter, read Ron Brownstein’s exit poll number-crunching to see how much work she has to do among independents to become a viable presidential candidate. The only way she adds to that 35 percent, I think, is to totally wonk out on foreign and domestic policy in interviews going forward. But that presents a dilemma: The reason the media’s fascinated with her is because she’s not a wonk, but rather an average Jill who shuttles the kids to school and whips up a little moose stew on the fly when she’s not busy governing the biggest state in America. That’s why not one, not two, but all three interviews she’s done this week have included scenes of her in the kitchen and around the house. Once she starts demanding that they skip the vignettes related to her persona and ask her questions about Ukraine, how many reporters will still want to talk to her?