Yesterday, beloved punkin' pundit Chuck Todd went on the air with MSNBC and voiced something that some people have been wondering about for a while: Do John McCain and Sarah Palin actually kind of hate one another? In describing NBC's series of interviews between Brian Williams and the running mates, Todd said:
There was a tenseness between the two. There's no chemistry. I couldn't see chemistry between John McCain and Sarah Palin. I felt as if we grabbed two people and said, 'Here, sit next to each other, we're going to conduct an interview.' They're not comfortable with each other yet. The other thing about it is, you can tell they know that they're losing. They're drained, their campaign seems drained…
Todd went on to emphasize what he described as "the odd body language." He wondered also whether they were each blaming one another for perceived problems with the campaign. Now that this suspicion has been bared, you can expect to see it more and more. "Body-language experts" may be called in, "insiders" will be quoted, and if the McCain-Palin ticket loses (something that is further from reality than many Dems hope), it will almost assuredly be a plotline in campaign postmortems.
Here are a few isolated incidents or situations which were heretofore viewed as unrelated, but which we predict the media will try to link together if they go with the whole "McCain/Palin" tension meme:
1. The body language during the NBC interviews. We didn't really see the tension between them that Chuck Todd described during last night's Nightly News segment (maybe that's more obvious in later portions?), but we did notice that every time Palin talked, McCain looked quietly downward, as though he was trying very, very hard to listen. Or pray?
2. The idea of Palin as running mate was sprung on McCain at the very last minute by his two strong-willed advisers, Fred Davis and Steve Schmidt. This weekend's New York Times Magazine story reveals just how short a time period it was between when Davis and Schmidt unilaterally presented their case and when the announcement was made by McCain (five days). According to the story, McCain made up his own mind, but in retrospect he may regret the timing and spin.
3. Palin and McCain don't actually agree on everything. Palin famously protests McCain's resistance to ANWR drilling, which the campaign dealt with early on. But then Palin ankled McCain by publicly protesting his decision to pull out of Michigan. They aren't the big issues of the race, but it's far from the eventual lockstep displayed by the Obama-Biden ticket.
4. Palin seems to be bristling at the fact that she's so closely managed. Anyone as tough and driven as Sarah Palin can't enjoy being so closely controlled (and perhaps as mistrusted) as she is by the McCain campaign. This week, Palin said during her NBC interview that she would release her medical records, something Chuck Todd later pointed out "was a surprise to her campaign staff."
5. Palin is an easy scapegoat for McCain. Colin Powell, Kathleen Parker, David Frum, Matthew Dowd … all those people should have firmly been in the Arizona senator's camp, but they're now voicing what many conservatives are thinking: Palin's inexperience is crippling the ticket. If he loses, all McCain will have to do is agree with them.
6. McCain is an easy scapegoat for Palin. The governor of Alaska may bill herself as a hockey mom, but she's no fool — as The New York Times Magazine pointed out, once she was elected, she was careful to impress, and forge alliances with, every important conservative she came across, including Dick Morris, William Kristol, and any other neocon who happened to drift by Juneau in a cruise ship. She impressed many by being a tough cookie, but she's been caught off guard by a lot of the pressures and questions during the campaign. With more time to prepare, she could have been a much more viable candidate in four or eight — or even twelve — years. As Tina Brown pointed out, Palin might just realize that by picking her before she was ripe, McCain might have shriveled her future chances at the White House. With allies like Kristol and Morris, she can build upon these mistakes by blaming them on — who else? — John McCain.