The Washington Post’s Harold Meyerson said, “She responded to any question that required real-time thinking by ignoring it and dredging up a canned answer from the McCain campaign’s canned-answer pool. She had memorized her answers, even if they weren’t the answers to the questions Gwen Ifill posed. Her performance was dissociated, jumbled, and at times completely contradictory, with soundbites appearing and reappearing almost at random.”
Some other reaction, starting with the New York Times:
She succeeded by not failing in any obvious way. She mostly reverted to and repeated talking points, like referring to Mr. McCain as a “maverick” and the Republican ticket as a “team of mavericks,” while not necessarily quelling doubts among voters about her depth of knowledge.
Although Ms. Palin name-dropped several times, presumably to show fluency in foreign affairs, she did not always drop the right name. At one point, she referred to the top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David D. McKiernan, as "McClellan.”
Ms. Palin also tended to seize on a single point or phrase of Mr. Biden or the moderator and veer off on her own direction in her 90-second answer. Asked whether the poor economy would cause Mr. McCain to cut his spending plans, Ms. Palin picked up on Mr. Biden’s discussion of energy to criticize Mr. Obama’s positions on energy and talk about her fights against oil companies in Alaska.
In response to a question about her views on an exit strategy in Iraq, Ms. Palin championed Mr. McCain’s support for the “surge” of American troops there; hailed “a great American hero,” Gen. David H. Petraeus; and attacked Mr. Obama’s Senate votes.
After that, Mr. Biden turned to the moderator and said, “Gwen, with all due respect, I didn’t hear a plan.”
Eugene Robinson wrote in the Washington Post: “I thought Sarah Palin made one huge, central mistake -- and I expect it to be reflected in surveys asking voters who won (as it is already, indeed, reflected in a CBS snap poll of uncommitted voters indicating that they saw Joe Biden as the winner). Her error was that she hardly talked at all about policy solutions, except when the debate got onto the subject of energy and offshore drilling. But on everything else -- the financial crisis, the economy in general, health care, the war on terror -- she gave little more than promises of reform and ‘maverick’-y governance.”
From Salon’s Joan Walsh:
She lost the debate when Biden choked up over losing his wife and child in a car accident in which his sons were critically injured -- and she went straight back into “John McCain is a maverick.” I truly expected her to express human sympathy with Biden, and her failure to do so showed me something deeply wrong with her.
She made other mistakes that others have already caught: She called the top commander in Afghanistan General McClellan; his name is McKiernan. She said the troop levels in Iraq are down to pre-surge levels; they're not. She simply didn't answer a lot of the questions. Moderator Gwen Ifill tried to pull her back, but Palin is stubborn; she had her talking points, and she stuck to them.
John Nichols wrote in The Nation: “Let's be clear that Palin did not crash and burn as her most ardent detractors anticipated – or, at the least, hoped – she would. Yes, the governor rambled at times, and she had no comebacks at those moments when Biden directly challenged the validity of her over-the-top claims about Obama's Senate voting record. But Palin gave Republican spin doctors enough material – mainly in the form of folksy one-liners -- so that they could cheer her ‘success’ without sounding entirely ridiculous.”
In a Slate article titled “So Palin spoke in complete sentences; She still knows nothing about foreign policy,” Fred Kaplan writes:
When Palin repeated her charge that Obama was "beyond naive" in calling for negotiating with adversaries "without preconditions," Biden explained what the phrase meant, then noted that it was supported not just by the five former secretaries of state who recently co-authored an endorsement of the idea but by our allies, with whom Palin had just said we needed to work together.
When Palin recited McCain's line about applying the principles of the Iraqi surge to Afghanistan, Biden (correctly) noted that the U.S. commanding general in Afghanistan has said the surge wouldn't work there.
Finally, when Biden said the Bush administration's foreign policy has been an "abject failure," and proceeded to list the many ways in which that was so, Palin's only reply was to smile and say, "Enough playing the blame game." If Obama and Biden talk so much about change, she added (as if this were really a clever point), why do they spend so much time looking backward?
To which Biden replied, with uncharacteristic pith, "Past is prologue." And so it is. At another point, he noted, "Facts matter." And so they do.
More to the point, he noted that McCain has never explained how his policies would differ from Bush's on Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, or Iraq. In other words, even if Palin is right that 2009 is Year Zero, what would she and her No. 1 do differently? She didn't answer the question, any more than McCain ever has, perhaps because there is no answer.
When Biden was asked what line he would draw in deciding whether to intervene in other countries militarily, he cited two criteria: whether we had the capacity to make a difference and whether the countries in question were committing genocide or harboring terrorists—in which case, he said, they would have forfeited the rights of sovereignty.
Palin replied merely by hailing John McCain as a man "who knows how to win a war, who's been there." (McCain has said this about himself as well several times, though, with all due respect for his military record, where's the proof of this claim? What wars has he won, and what did he do there?)