On The Couch

David Brooks correctly notes that many a Republican was watching the debate from a crouch behind the couch last night, prepared for the worst, but instead saw something far different than what they feared:

When nervous, Palin has a tendency to over-enunciate her words like a graduate of the George W. Bush School of Oratory, but Thursday night she spoke like a normal person. It took her about 15 seconds to define her persona — the straight-talking mom from regular America — and it was immediately clear that the night would be filled with tales of soccer moms, hockey moms, Joe Sixpacks, main-streeters, “you betchas” and “darn rights.” Somewhere in heaven Norman Rockwell is smiling.

But he is correct that it was not merely stylistically that she succeeded:

On matters of substance, her main accomplishment was to completely sever ties to the Bush administration. She treated Bush as some historical curiosity from the distant past. Beyond that, Palin broke no new ground, though she toured the landscape of McCain policy positions with surprising fluency. Like the last debate, this one was surprisingly wonky — a lifetime subscription to Congressional Quarterly. Palin could not match Biden when it came to policy detail, but she never obviously floundered . . . By the end of the debate, most Republicans were not crouching behind the couch, but standing on it. The race has not been transformed, but few could have expected as vibrant and tactically clever a performance as the one Sarah Palin turned in Thursday night.

And therein lies the hope, maybe the only remaining hope of the McCain campaign: that in a country which now loathes Washington insiders he and Palin can convince voters that their opponents are more insider-ish than they. That will mean some heavy lifting and hard hitting. The most useful message for McCain? Barack Obama is an insider because he and his Democratic allies created and fed the beast of the subprime mess, larded up Washington budgets, are in the pocket of the trial lawyers and Big Labor (ask Joe Biden!), and just talk and talk and talk.

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On The Couch

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The Favor Trump Has Done for the Politically Correct

Legacy achievement.

The controversy surrounding ugly and profane remarks Donald Trump allegedly made in a meeting with a bipartisan group of senators has had a longer half-life than the average Trump-linked contretemps, perhaps because so many appear willing to throw themselves under its treads.

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Venezuela Targets the Catholic Church

Deliver us from communism.

Vatican diplomacy moves slowly and cautiously. The Pope is the spiritual leader of some 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, but he commands no armies and his statecraft runs mostly on moral authority. He and his representatives understandably prefer quiet, behind-the-scenes advocacy to public grandstanding. But from time to time, it becomes necessary for the Holy See and the Pope himself to throw down the gauntlet to worldly authorities that threaten the Church and her flock.

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But Will Democrats Overplay Their Hand?

Confrontation or competence?

Republicans are fortunate. Whenever they find themselves in positions of advantage amid a crisis or controversy that reflects poorly on Democrats, the press becomes consumed with concern for the GOP’s well-being. In these moments of Democratic misfortune, political analysts in media can often be heard fretting over the prospect of Republican “overreach.” They warn that those in the GOP should not “overplay their hand,” and observe that the scandals engulfing their opposition are subordinate to the fact that Republicans have an unattractive tendency to “pounce” on the news. Democrats don’t have the luxury of such faithful and consistent mentorship, which is unfortunate for them. They’re going to need it. With Republicans stumbling into one self-set trap after another, and their opponents enjoying the spoils, the Trump era’s newly empowered Democrats already seem tempted to mistake their good fortune for a mandate.

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The First Rule of S—holes

Podcast: The politics of profanity.

Donald Trump can’t decide which person he is on immigration—the one with love or the one who prefers Nordics to Nigerians. Meanwhile, Hawaii tells its people a ballistic missile is on its way but surprise! It isn’t. And everybody blames Trump anyway. It’s our first podcast of the week. Give a listen.

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Revenge of the Unduly Reprieved

Clemancy for Manning and Arpaio backfires.

Americans are about to have another “entertaining” election cycle at a time when the country desperately needs a return to boredom and predictability. In Arizona, former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s decision to challenge conspiracy-theory enthusiast and former state Senator Kelli Ward ensures that the race to replace retiring Senator Jeff Flake will become a competition to see who can do their best Roy Moore impression. Democrats should hold the schadenfreude. They have their own embarrassment to contain in Maryland, where Chelsea Manning—the former U.S. Army soldier court-martialed in 2013 for violating the Espionage Act—will challenge Senator Ben Cardin. Both candidacies represent a humiliating stain on their respective parties, not just because they are reflective of their increasingly legitimized fringes, but because they are the result of the worst ideological excesses of Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

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