Besides “expectations,” that is.
The forum. Beyond the content of her answers, the most damaging element of Sarah Palin’s interviews with Charles Gibson and Katie Couric was her self-presentation. She seemed nervous—really nervous—tensing up, running sentences together and seeming to throw out verbiage defensively, like squid ink. Anyone who saw her speak at the Republican National Convention, or has watched her on the stump, knows that Sarah Palin has no such jitters addressing an audience. Now, a debate hall is different from a cheering sea of supporters, true. But it’s also different from sitting alone, no audience, in front of an interlocutor whom you believe is ready to trip you up. Not going one-on-one may well make Palin project more confidence even if her answers are the same in content—and TV debates are in part about the projection of image.
The format. As I posted earlier, the most devastating part of the Couric interview was not the questions; it was the follow-ups. TV debates are more tightly formatted—and this Vice Presidential debate was negotiated to be even more tightly formatted than the Presidential debates. This should make it easier to deliver a 60-second reply without being followed up on repeatedly, or pressed for specifics. (In a debate, the onus for that falls largely on your opponent, and Joe Biden may want to avoid being too prosecutorial for his own reasons.)
Zingers! “There you go again!” “Where’s the beef!” “You are no Jack Kennedy!” Oooh, but debate audiences love them some zingers. And again, as anyone who watched the RNC knows, Palin can deliver them with the snark and timing of a sitcom star. If her debate-prep team knows their business, they will have equipped her with a brimming quiver of Z-bolts. (The risk, of course, is that a canned zinger that falls flat can be awful—but it beats blanking on Supreme Court rulings.)
Expectations. OK, I lied.
Next: Why Joe Biden may do better than you think.