Chris Matthews:

One week after his extraordinary announcement to resign from the Chicago church he attended and financially supported for 20 years, the word from the Barack Obama for President campaign is that the presumptive Democratic nominee is prepared to go even further in separating himself from anyone and anything that could come between him and the White House.

I'm Chris Matthews. Let's play

Hardball

.

First, we go to

Meet the Press

host Tim Russert. Tim?

Tim Russert:

Good morning, Chris. If last week's news was extraordinary - and it must be, 'cause you say so - this week's is flabbergasting. No one will appear on camera due to the sensitive nature of the topic, but word is leaking from Obama insiders that the next to go in the campaign could be the Illinois senator's wife Michelle.

The candidate, while insisting that he has complete confidence in her as a wife and mother, is reportedly a little surprised by her remarks on the campaign trail: no reason as an adult to feel pride in America; the United States is a "mean" country. Not the kind of things that Mainstream America wants to hear in a general election campaign.

Chris:

Wait, this isn't a staffer. This is his wife! How do they expect to spin this?

Tim:

With high-minded but empty rhetoric, Chris. Keep in mind, this isn't a spur-of-the-moment decision. Obama has had a long association with his wife, and so is not totally unfamiliar with these views - though reportedly he will insist that he was never at the dinner table when these opinions were expressed. So he and the staff have been laying the groundwork . . .

Chris:

Groundwork? How do you prepare for this?

Tim:

Think back, Chris. Remember that little thrill that went up your leg? No, not that one. The one during Obama's race speech, where the "throw granny under the bus" strategy was revealed. She was sacrificed so Obama could try to make sense of his ties to the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. and Trinity United Church of Christ.

When Wright made it impossible to pretend that a few sermon snippets had been taken out of context, under the bus went the good Reverend. Then the church. And the longtime Obama supporter convicted of 16 counts of corruption is on thin ice based on the candidate's all-too-familiar comments after last week's guilty verdicts: "This isn't the Tony Rezko I knew."

Most of this has happened without any major damage to Obama's poll numbers. The campaign is starting to believe that this candidacy - yes, even this presidency - is now inevitable. He really doesn't have to stand for anything - or with anyone.

Chris:

Hold on, there's gotta be some risk here.

Tim:

Indeed, Chris. As one insider told me, "She might very well kick his skinny butt all over the South Side of Chicago." Which helps explain the staff's reluctance to appear on camera.

Chris:

Well, sure. But what about with voters?

Tim:

Two things his supporters raise - indicating this has already been focus-grouped.

One, by risking his personal safety with this decision, the Obama camp expects him to pull even with John McCain on the whole personal courage thing.

Two, the campaign plans to suggest that a president can't confront the nation's enemies if he - or she - won't stand up to the first spouse. A clear shot across the bow of the ever-hopeful Clintons.

Chris:

Tim, I'm trying to imagine the press conference announcing all this. We've seen in recent cases - former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, for one - the photo of the woman standing by her man. How do you un-stand by your woman?

Tim:

Eloquently, making it clear that the candidate is sacrificing for the good of the country. The first part is today's trial balloon. If the response from Middle America is a shrug and a, "Oh, that crazy Obama just dissed another relative," that could mean they move ahead.

But even then, don't expect a media spectacle. Chances are a brief statement will be released, saying the candidate's wife hopes to spend more time with her family. Though, obviously, not all the members of that family.

Chris:

Tim, what happened to the candidate of hope and change?

Tim:

The staff already has an answer to that, Chris. They say that "change" isn't just about policy or conducting business in Washington. It's being willing to change anything - your friends, key associates, even your church and values if necessary. All in the hope - and there's that key campaign word - that voters are too dazzled by charisma to notice and will send you to the White House anyway.

Contact Kevin Ferris at kf@phillynews.com or 215-854-5305.