Maybe it was late and a rough night for the Democratic Party that caused this strange line of questioning and it was just the best way MSNBC “Hardball” host Chris Matthews could deal with it.
On MSNBC’s Election Night coverage in the midst of a Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives and with several U.S. Senate races still pending, Matthews deviated from the subject matter and asked Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, about the merits of former GOP vice-presidential nominee and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s 2012 presidential candidacy.
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“Senator, do you think Sarah Palin is qualified to be President of the United States?” Matthews asked.
Begich, a Democratic didn’t embrace that notion of a Palin presidency and said he didn’t think she was the right fit.
“Listen, I served as mayor when she was governor,” Begich said. “You're qualified to be able to file. But I think she does not have it to be President of the United States.”
But that wasn’t good enough for Matthews and he continued on.
“She doesn't have the qualifications in terms of intellect or background or experience to be president?”
Begich answered best he could, but rather than leave it there – Matthews fired off a few other questions about Palin.
“What’s her motive, what’s her motive?” Matthews said. “That's my favorite question in politics. I mean, everybody’s got a mix of motives, I suppose. Besides raw ambition to be noticed, what is it?”
Begich then offered his best MSNBC talking points-type of response and made it clear that he questioned her political strategies, particularly the last two weeks.
“It's a fair question,” Begich said. “The personal motives, I can't tell you. I know she is very ambitious. She wants to be a player as she tried to do this election. She tried to be in the mix to make sure she has an input into who runs the country or who manages the affairs of congress. The real issue which I've noticed in the last two weeks, which she spends a lot more time doing, is just calling people names. I mean, she calls Republicans names. She calls Democrats names. The question that's the bottom line is, what is her plan? What’s her action? I don't care if she's thinking or not thinking about running for president. What the issue is she is a political leader out there. She needs to be stepping up to the plate with what her plans are. And all you hear -- if you just disagree with her, you're going to be called a name. That's what I've learned.”
Still, Matthews remained persistent. He then wanted Begich to evaluate Palin’s ability to win a round of “Jeopardy.”
“If she were on ‘Jeopardy’ right now and the topic was national government - American government generally defined, would she look like an imbecile or would she look OK? Does she know anything?
Begich didn’t sell the former Alaska governor short. He explained she was savvy and her ability shouldn’t be doubted.
“I think she knows. I met with her multiple times when I was mayor, when she was governor,” Begich replied. “But you know, when I look at the amount of people who can be running on the Republican side, it’s going to be a pretty mixed bag. But I would also say she caters to the Republican primary-type of voter. So, in those primary that's are very strategically laid out, if you look at where she's laid out her marker on certain races, those are strategic locations for early primaries. So she is thinking long term here. Don't be fooled.”
But after that, Matthews channeled his inner-Katie Couric and remarkably asked Begich about Palin’s reading habits.
“Have you ever been an eyewitness to her actually reading something?” Matthews badgered. “Have you seen her – no, I'm dead serious about this. Have you ever seen her reading words on a piece of paper? A newspaper, magazine, anything? Have you ever seen her read something?”
Begich said indeed he had, but explained to Matthews that wasn’t the most important thing.
“I've always -- when I've been around her, when I was mayor, she was doing ribbon cuttings, thing like - speeches that she had written remarks on. That's what I've known. You know, it's not about Palin, it is about what will happen in the next two years. It’s going to be an exciting time.”