Well, this certainly explains Levi Johnston's strange apology last week. Bristol Palin and Levi Johnston, the parents of Sarah Palin's grandson, Tripp, have announced in Us Weekly that they're engaged and that they hope to marry within six months.
It's yet another weird twist in the already bizarre (and top-rated) soap opera As Wasilla Turns. First, there was the surprise revelation, shortly after John McCain picked Palin as his running mate in the 2008, that her daughter was pregnant out of wedlock, but that the couple were engaged. Shortly after the election, Johnston's mother was arrested on drug charges. Then it got really strange: Johnston and Bristol broke off their engagement, and then Johnston made a series of accusations about the Palin family and what they knew about his relationship with Bristol, then posed in Playgirl. Sarah Palin fired back at him in an interview with Oprah Winfrey.
But gossip blogs have been buzzing with rumors that Bristol and Johnston were back together, with Johnston's apology for his snipes at the family feeding the speculation. And now, apparently, they are.
Earlier this week we looked at what a federal disclosure from Palin's political-action committee meant for her presidential prospects. Perversely, the nuptial news could have an even greater impact.
On the one hand, it helps to bandage over a gaping liability. Before his apology, Johnston was (obviously) a loose cannon who made the Palins look bad with his tell-all inside look at the Palin house—even though some of his claims were apparently false (though Johnston hasn't said which ones). And the fact that Palin had an unwed teenage daughter with a baby didn't help her—indeed, there were allegations that the original Johnston-Palin engagement was a shotgun affair to save face—but now she can again play up the "happy family" image that's served her well.
On the other hand, Johnston is, well, a loose cannon. It's pretty clear he can't be relied on to stay quiet and docile. Meanwhile, the engagement is yet another diversion for Palin, distracting her from fundraising, her very effective work on behalf of candidates she supports, and so on. Also: Us Weekly? Johnston and Bristol's decision to be on the cover of the glossy puts them in strange company. The last four covers of the magazine have featured two celebs famous for sex tapes (Kendra Wilkinson and Eric Dane) and drama over reality shows. It's not exactly the forum politicians typically choose for major announcements. And then there's Bristol's odd comment in the story that she hadn't told her parents about the engagement—yet another example of bad message control in the Palin machine. All in all, voters who see Sarah Palin as fundamentally unserious may well have their suspicions reinforced.
It's early to say which effect will be more pronounced. Then again, if the backstory is any indication, the engagement isn't the last we'll hear of this.