ST. PAUL, Minn. Who'd have thought that Fred Thompson, whose own presidential campaign ranged from lackluster to lackadaisical, would be the one to finally rouse the Republicans here?
Ever since John McCain announced his selection of Sarah Palin as his running mate four days ago, Republicans (along with quite a few Democrats) have talked about little else. But convincing voters that Palin will make a good vice president is not the most important task at hand at this nominating convention.
Republicans have to convince voters that John McCain would make a good president or that Barack Obama would make a bad one. Or both. Obama is leading, however narrowly, in all the polls, and the Republicans need to take him down a peg or two this week.
And Fred Thompson did his best, calling Obama "the most liberal, most inexperienced nominee to ever run for president."
He said that Obama's real skills amounted to no more than giving a "teleprompter speech designed to appeal to American critics abroad" and accused him of saying at a recent forum "that the protection of the unborn or a newly born baby is above his pay grade."
True, Thompson could not leave the subject of Sarah Palin alone. "Some Washington pundits and media big shots are in a frenzy over the selection of a woman who has actually governed rather than just talked a good game on the Sunday talk shows and hit the Washington cocktail circuit," Thompson said.
"And I can say without fear of contradiction," he went on, "that she is the only nominee in the history of either party who knows how to properly field dress a moose with the possible exception of Teddy Roosevelt."
He would get no argument there, but just about everything else about Palin is still arguable. Like whether she is really ready to be the president if she has to.
President Bush, who was relegated to a non-prime-time video address from the White House on Tuesday, said: "We live in a dangerous world. And we need a president who understands the lessons of September 11, 2001: that to protect America, we must stay on the offense, stop attacks before they happen and not wait to be hit again. The man we need is John McCain."
But how well does the "we live in a dangerous world" argument work if you substitute Palin for McCain?
It is not an unfair question. While the standard that the vice presidency is "only a heartbeat away from the presidency" has become a cliché, it is also accurate. Four vice presidents have become president through the natural death of a president, four through assassination and one through resignation. That's quite a number considering we've had only 43 presidents.
The selection of a running mate is the first presidential-level decision a nominee makes. And some are wondering how well McCain got to know Palin before he made that decision.
According to his own campaign, the answer is not very well. Jill Hazelbaker, McCain's national communications director, says that McCain and Palin met exactly once before he selected her as his running mate.
They met at a National Governors Association meeting in Washington in February and then on Sunday, Aug. 24, McCain had a phone conversation with Palin while McCain was at his home in Phoenix and Palin was at the Alaska State Fair. It was after this conversation only the second the two had ever had that McCain decided to offer her the job.
Republicans will continue to bash Obama and praise McCain this week. But Palin has a big job to do herself on Wednesday, when she is scheduled to address this convention: She has to demonstrate she can handle not only the vice presidency, but the presidency, should the need arise.