THE STORY THE CAMPAIGN WANTS FRONT AND CENTER…. There was a carefully choreographed photo-op on an airport tarmac this afternoon, where John McCain greeted the Palin family. Watching the video, you’ll notice that McCain lingers with Palin’s pregnant daughter and her fiancee. All of this could have been done in private, of course, but the McCain campaign obviously wanted the media attention, and sure enough, news outlets were fascinated by the family drama.

It led Josh Marshall to raise a very compelling point: Palin’s family is front and center, because the McCain campaign wants Palin’s family to be front and center.

Since there is widespread agreement that the children of candidates should not become topics of campaign debate, it behooves us to note that the McCain campaign has almost singlehandedly made Sarah Palin’s daughter a central figure in the Republican convention.

It was the McCain campaign that announced Palin’s daughter’s pregnancy. That alone might be understandable since it appears a supermarket tabloid was about to print the story. But it was the McCain campaign, entirely on its own, that dished up unsubstantiated claims about maternity tests and all sorts of other lurid nonsense that had never been seen in print anywhere. And now the McCain campaign has staged a ceremonial laying-on-of-hands on the tarmac in St. Paul in which Sen. McCain has given his official blessing to the young couple and embrace of Bristol’s boyfriend Levi.

Let’s be clear about what’s happening here. Overwhelmingly, reporters are pressing eminently reasonable questions — her role in troopergate, her lack of experience, her connections to the AIP, her history of earmarking and lobbyists, etc. Meanwhile, the McCain campaign is going absolutely non-stop about Palin’s daughter. It is unmistakable.

It is, indeed. We already know the McCain campaign hopes to avoid substantive policy discussions — campaign manager Rick Davis insisted yesterday, “This election is not about issues” — and this seems to play into a larger strategy.

To add to Josh’s point, there are two other angles to consider here. First, the more the political world obsesses over family drama and soap-opera-like theater, the less voters will hear about the legitimate, substantive critiques on Palin, and the criticism over McCain’s comically inept judgment. For the McCain, that’s obviously a net plus.

Second, if McCain aides and surrogates can keep talking about Palin’s family by complaining about the coverage of Palin’s family, the public will eventually collectively shrug its shoulders, and assume that all Palin-related criticism is trivial and should be tuned out.

Something to keep in mind as the campaign-driven melodrama continues.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.