Tonight's debate was interesting for a lot reasons, first and foremost in regard to whether Sarah Palin was going to continue as a viable political presence. What Biden did was largely irrelevant: he doesn't help or hurt his ticket. In fact, he did just fine, although his Washington-speak can't have won over any converts in middle America. As Jennifer Rubin at Commentary Magazine put it about Biden's remark about the time he spends at Home Depot, "What’s he doing there — trying to find someone to deliver a lecture to?"
Sarah Palin may or may not have beaten Joe Biden in the debate, but the fact is she didn't have to. What she had to beat was the media image of a political newcomer out of her water, and this she did in spades.
This debate wasn't about beating Joe Biden. This debate was about beating Tina Fey.
Sarah Palin not only exceeded expectations, I think she saved her political career. She was in danger of becoming a political joke because of poor performances in unadvisable interviews the geniuses at the McCain campaign unwisely put her in. This debate completely rewrites all of that current wisdom. I think it was Fred Barnes who pointed out that he could not remember any vice presidential debate that rewrote the future of a partipant. This one clearly did.
The only comparable such event I can remember was the second presidential debate between Reagan and Mondale, when Reagan, after a lackluster performance in their first debate, and facing questions about his fitness for office because of his age, made the remark about "my opponent's youth and inexperience," and hit it out of the park.
If you are scoring a debate card, I think it was a draw for Palin at best, but we all know these debates cannot be scored that way. They are about much more than the words the candidates say. Debates like this come down, not to who has the better arguments (and there were cogent arguments on both sides), but to who is more appealing. On this criterion, Palin won hands down.
Palin exceeded expectations, which is what the current wisdom said she had to do to win. But she not only exceeded expectations, she exceeded the expectations by more than she was expected to exceed them.
What really told you about how this debate went was the remarks of the opponents, and you could detect the talking points Democrats had prepared in the case of a Palin win. Paul Begala (who you can always count on to follow his orders) said it best: Palin may have helped herself, but she didn't help McCain. When you can't say what you want to say about something you just saw, say something about something no one could see.
Begala and the Democrats might be right, but I suspect not. Whether the McCain/Palin ticket converts the unconverted as a result of the debate isn't really what you would expect anyway. But what the Obama campaign has to be equally concerned about is what this does for Republican turnout. Palin had energized the base, and that energy was eroding.
It is back now.