By the time the campaign ended last fall, Sarah Palin had turned into a national laughingstock, thanks more to her own dismal performance in interviews than to Tina Fey's mockery. And yet, John McCain still couldn't quite bring himself to throw her under the bus Sunday morning.
Asked by CNN's John King on"State of the Union" for his thoughts on Palin's chances if she runs for president herself in 2012, McCain demurred, saying he was "not capable" of predicting the next election. And he stuck up for the former Alaska governor he plucked from Arctic obscurity.
"When we selected, or asked Sarah Palin to be my running mate, it energized our party," McCain said. "We were ahead in the polls until the stock market crashed. And she still is a formidable force in the Republican Party. And I have great affection for her."
Of course, it's in McCain's interests to defend Palin; the perception that he was ready to put a totally unprepared novice in the vice presidency didn't help his campaign last year, and it won't help his legacy looking forward. But enough McCain aides have been trashing Palin since the campaign ended that it wouldn't have been entirely surprising if he had joined in.
That didn't quite mean all was rosy, necessarily. "Well, Sarah and I -- did we always agree on everything in the past; will we in the future? No," McCain said.
But the former nominee still wouldn't rule her chances out. "But, look, let's let 1,000 flowers bloom," he said (quoting Mao, as McCain often does). "Let's come up with a winning combination the next time. And let's all go through the process rather than condemning anybody's chances. And I'm happy to say, we have some great people out there and Sarah is one of them."
McCain has been fairly gracious to all the potential 2012 candidates, agreeing to raise money for Mitt Romney, though he says he'd do the same for anyone who asked.
You can watch the interview here -- the most interesting moment is when McCain laughs after King asks him why his former campaign manager, Steve Schmidt, said Palin would lead to a "catastrophic" result for the GOP.