Palin vs. Biden 2016

In the third of a series on the 2012 landscape, former Bush and McCain strategist Mark McKinnon says Palin is getting stronger by the day—and will be ready to take on the Obama agenda (or his vice president) in three years or seven.

06.15.09 1:06 PM ET

Sarah Palin vs. Joe Biden in 2016. You heard it here first.

And really, what could be more entertaining?

Joe Biden, because God bless him, he just can’t help himself, has made clear that he could very possibly be a candidate for president in 2016. So, poof, gone in a typically Bidenesque unguarded moment is any pretense of pure loyalty to his current boss. Joltin’ Joe has one agenda: himself. No matter what he says or does now, we know because he told us so, when he’s in Oval Office meetings he’s really thinking about the color of the carpet he plans to put in. Got to give the guy points for candor. And you just know that he thinks he should be in the big chair now, but he’s doing the country a service by lowering himself a notch to help out the new kid.

The best way to hurt Letterman is to ignore him. And he deserves to be ignored.

And God bless Sarah Palin. What would we do without her for entertainment? She’s our very own political reality show. An American Political Idol finalist. She’s like watching a moose on roller skates. Never graceful. Always riveting.

Yet, despite buckets of criticism constantly flung her way, she’s got a lot going for her. Just like George W. Bush, people and the media constantly “misunderestimate” her. No matter what you think about her politics, this woman is tenacious, fearless, and savvy. John McCain’s former chief of staff, Mark Salter, said it best: “What she knows, you can’t teach. And what she doesn’t know, she can learn.”

She got thrown in the deep end before she could swim. As my friend Stuart Stevens said, “It was like picking someone of the street and telling them they had to take the MCATs the next day.” But, she dog-paddled furiously, thrashed about, made a lot of waves, and managed not to drown. And now she’s got her water wings. And she’s working on her strokes. And by 2012 or 2016, she’ll be a lot stronger.

It you need evidence, check out her appearance Friday with Wolf Blitzer. I disagree with my friend and sponsor Tina Brown on this subject. I think Palin knocked it out of the park. It was a long and substantive interview. Kudos to Blitzer and CNN for giving her a full 15 minutes of airtime. And she more than held her own. Talked about a natural gas-pipeline deal that is good a deal and smart politics. Talked about Obamanomics. And laid a pretty good beating on David Letterman.

Letterman has been employing as part of his defense that his very bad joke was aimed at Palin’s older, 18-year-old daughter Bristol, not her 14-year-old, Willow. As if this somehow justifies his egregiously poor judgment. But as Palin pointed out, she attended the Yankees game with Willow.

And surely his joke writers read about their attendance at the game. How else would they have thought of the joke. So they had to know it was Willow. Or, at least they certainly should have. Ignorance is a lousy excuse.

My initial reflex on this issue was wrong. As a former journalist who was once jailed on a First Amendment issue (defending an Iranian’s right to protest in Texas!), I always lean toward defending anyone’s right to say whatever stupid thing they want to say. And pay the consequences of the market. In this case, viewers. Letterman’s joke was crude and inappropriate, but my fear was that the Republican right wing would make too big a deal out of it, thereby achieving Letterman’s end game: attention, and consequently, eyeballs. I still think calling him a pervert or a pederast just lowers Palin to his level. The best way to hurt Letterman is to ignore him.

And he deserves to be ignored. He is a mean, petty, bitter guy. Over the years working with candidates, I’ve dealt with late-night shows a lot. And there is a definite spectrum. On one side, you have Jay Leno, who treated guests with total professionalism and respect. Jay would always come to the green room and personally meet the guest and make sure they were comfortable and at ease. Always brought flowers for female guests or companions. Letterman, on the other hand, was consistently rude. He acts like he’s doing you a big favor have you on the show. He never greets guests before the show. Likes putting the freeze on them (the green room is frigid and spare) so you walk out cold and he always has the advantage.

But at the end of the day on this one, score one for Palin. She looks like a good and righteous mom defending her kids and Letterman looks like the cruel punk that he is.

She’s getting stronger. And when asked by Blitzer about her plans for reelection as governor in 2010 or about a run for president in 2012, Palin demurred. Whatever she decides, she’s going to be a player. She could get reelected and still run in 2012. Or, she could get reelected and not run in 2012, but go out and be a celebrity on the circuit supporting the nominee and earn a lot of points for 2016 (assuming the Republicans lose in 2012, a pretty good bet right now). Or she may not run for reelection and load up for 2012. But, my bet is that whatever she decides, she’ll be on the stage in 2016. And by then, she’ll be a lot stronger. And by the Salter theorum, she will have learned a lot.

And despite his shortcomings, by 2016, Joe Biden will have locked up all the natural advantages any vice president has running for president.

Sara “Cuda” vs. Joe “the (bloviating) Volcano”. Oh man, get me a front-row seat.

Xtra Insight: Tina Brown: What Hillary Can Teach Sarah Palin

Xtra Insight: Margaret Carlson: Palin Can't Outsmart Letterman

As vice chairman of Public Strategies and president of Maverick Media, Mark McKinnon has helped meet strategic challenges for candidates, causes, and individuals, including George W. Bush, John McCain, Governor Ann Richards, Charlie Wilson, Lance Armstrong, and Bono. McKinnon is co-chair of Arts & Labs, a collaboration between technology and creative communities that have embraced today’s rich Internet environment to deliver innovative and creative digital products to consumers.