On Saturday's Chris Matthews Show, a panel featuring NPR's Michele Norris, Time's Michael Duffy and CNBC's Erin Burnett ponders who's going to be leading the GOP charge against the Obama administration in the coming months. Matthews wonders initially if it will be Sarah Palin, and the guests chew on that briefly, until Howard Fineman sets them all straight:
Matthews: There's a role open right now. It's the Chief Jeerleader. When the new administration takes office, no matter how historically wondrous it is, like Barack Obama's, there's gonna be someone on the other side who leaps to the chance be the person who dumps on the parade every day. Is it gonna be Sarah Palin?
Michele Norris: It's going to be a bit hard for her to do that from Alaska. I mean, some of that depends on -- frankly, it depends on you, you know ... whether you give her the kind of airtime that she needs to do that.
But she's also got to make sure she keeps the people back in Alaska happy. And she's got to improve her favorability ratings there and make sure that she takes care of business. I think perhaps that's a role she sees for herself. But I think that more likely the 'chief jeerleader,' ot use your term, may come out of the Senate, because that's where the real squabbles are going to be as they try to push forward this bailout package.
Matthews: You know, when you look at her, she seems so confident. You wonder whether we keep forgetting that we don't pick the president, they pick themselves, and we choose among them. And as long as she's willing to keep picking herself as a possible candidate for president, she's gonna be in this running.
Michael Duffy: Oh, I think she's done a very smart thing here. She knew that if she was ever gonna come back, she had to put this clothes thing to rest now, this week.
Matthews: Erin, did she put that to bed?
Erin Burnett: Ah, I think that's unclear. I'd like to pause for a second there. I think this speaks to her strengths and her weaknesses. She's incredibly strong in motivating people. She can say quick one-liners, she energizes. But sometimes you say, where's the depth there, where's the substance? There's not really much there behind it. There's not a whole lot of thoughtfulness in her delivery. And sometimes a great politician doesn't really need those things necessarily. So I don't really know the answer to your question, but I don't know that I need to know the answer. Just say that she can be a great politician.
Matthews: You don't need to be that complicated to be a great politician, this is probably true. But that leaves open the big question: Who will be the voice of the opposition for the next couple of months, first year of this administration? Will it be a Pawlenty, a Palin, a Bobby Jindal, Mitt Romney? Will it be John McCain?
Norris: Again -- I don't think it's going to be John McCain. I think we learned a lot about McCain after he ran for election last time, he went back and really rolled up his sleeves and worked. I don't think it's gonna be him. I still think it's going to come out of the Senate. I think it's going to be one of the senators.
Howard Fineman: It won't be out of the Hill at all. It's going to be Rush Limbaugh, and what's left of the conservative commentariat. They are going to be in charge of this party until the Republicans begin to get their act together.
Matthews: So the ticked-off voices.
Fineman: The ticked-off voices, and Rush will be the guy.
If he's right that Limbaugh and the Venom Brigade are going to be in charge of the GOP (and he probably is), the main question remains: Will they just drive the Republican bus deeper into their muddy ditch, or careen it off into a bottomless chasm?