On Fox News last night, Fred Barnes went on the attack against whomever in the McCain campaign was responsible for Sarah Palin's $150,000 wardrobe, declaring the person in question--whom he later said he believed was spokeswoman Nicole Wallace--a "coward" who should "step forward" to take responsibility. (Records seem to indicate that it was Jeff Larson, not Wallace, who made the purchases. But Wallace's denial to Politico's Ben Smith after Barnes's outburst--that it is "incorrect" that she charged the clothes to her card, and "incorrect that I went to any stores"--does seem a bit narrow and defensive.)
Barnes's assault comes on the heels of a similar complaint by Bill Kristol over the weekend. Meanwhile, the McCain campaign and Palin herself have been going out of their way to blame the RNC for the snafu, and RNC chariman Mike Duncan fired back yesterday, pointing out that the RNC bought the clothes at the campaign's request.
Notice what's missing from all this skirmishing? Anyone associated with the Democrats or the mainstream media. At this point, Barnes, Wallace, Kristol, Palin, Duncan, et al. are just about the only ones keeping this story alive. Moreover, it's hard for me to imagine that a typical voter much cares whether the clothes were purchased by the RNC, the campaign, or Palin herself--all of which are, after all, part of the same political enterprise. (Now, if someone could show that the clothes were bought by Bill Ayers using Iranian funds...)
No, Barnes and Kristol's blame-shifting isn't about next week at all; it's about next election, an attempt to take Couturegate off the table for Palin's already inevitable 2012 presidential run. It's one of several ironic reversals that's already starting to unfold as Sarah Palin evolves from being an issue in the general election to being Topic A in the GOP precrimination wars.
Take two of McCain's staunchest supporters in the conservative media, David Brooks and Kristol. Just a few weeks ago, Brooks was seen as betraying McCain by criticizing Palin, and Kristol was seen as supporting him by defending her. But as McCain vs. Obama gives way prematurely to McCain vs. Palin, Kristol--and the rest of the pro-Palin camp--is becoming, to at least a limited degree, anti-McCain. Meanwhile, the anti-Palin conservatives (including Brooks) are neatly positioned if the ticket loses to be part of the pro-McCain counterargument that "it was all Palin's fault." In other words, don't be too surprised if a couple weeks from now John McCain has warmer feelings toward David Brooks than he does toward Bill Kristol.