"In contrast to the vitriolic rants you'll find on some political blogging sites, Palmer gives in-depth analysis and commentary." --Dan Cook, The Free Times


On Sarah Palin's Future

The 2008 election provided the Republican Party with its second consecutive "thumping." In 2006, Republican scandals were primarily responsible for the party's political bloodbath. The Republican Party as a whole was the big loser of that election. 2008, however, produced several losers who emerged from the election in a far weaker state. Some of these losers include Joe Lieberman (who may enter the next congress without his committee chairmanship), Joe the Plumber (whose 15 minutes of fame came to a screeching halt), Karl Rove (whose playbook of dividing and distracting the electorate proved insufficient), and George Bush (who is widely attributed with starting John McCain's campaign off with two strikes).

While 2008 had a parade of political losers, there is probably no politician who was more seriously wounded by the campaign than Alaska Governor and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.

Palin has several problems. Perhaps her biggest problem is that of perception. Her unfavorability ratings have steadily risen. Prominent Republicans have turned on her. She is often accused of being a drag on McCain's ticket. And worse yet, a large percentage of voters do not believe she is qualified to be President or Vice President. So it's understandable that she is making the media rounds because she wants to rehabilitate her public image.

Since the election, there have been few stories about John McCain, her former boss, and Vice President-elect Joe Biden, who has much more power and relevance than she does. At times, however, it seems like the evening newscasts are giving more time to Palin than to President-elect Barack Obama himself. But given her unfavorability ratings and the sense of exhaustion voters have from the whole campaign, Palin might be better served by taking a less visible role in the media.

The threat to Palin is that she risks overexposing herself. After the election, the main media story has been President-elect Barack Obama's transition to the White House. But Sarah Palin seems to have launched a public relations campaign of her own by giving interviews to several journalists about McCain's failed campaign, the rumors about her and her family, and her own political future. In addition to keeping these negative stories in the headlines, the problem with this media blitz is that people's perceptions of Palin have hardened. And by keeping herself in the news long after the election is over, many voters (again, many of whom are burned out after the election) may simply wish that she'd go away. For example, she revived the Bill Ayers line of attack in a recent interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer. Are Republicans really happy that she's doing this since it obviously didn't matter at the ballot box? Other voters may conclude that she simply "wants it" too much. That would undermine Palin in that voters may think she wants to be President because of her own ambitions, rather than because she wants to help make America better.

Having said all of this, Palin remains a passionate and charismatic leader who has a loyal following. She clearly enjoys politics and mixing it up on the campaign trail. So it's likely that 2008 will not be the end of Sarah Palin. The question remains, however, where does she go from here?

It appears that Sarah Palin has four options: Governor indefinitely, senator sooner, senator later, or promotion much later:

1. Palin could continue to serve as Alaska's governor and run for president again in 2012 or even later. This option would allow her to remain as an outsider while continuing to produce demonstrable results in her state. She could come down hard on corruption, generate budget surpluses, and turn Alaska into one of the best managed states in the country. And by spending more time quietly delivering results in Alaska than "running with the Washington herd" (her line) by granting interview after interview, she will give the electorate a chance to catch its breath. Voters who love her now will still love her in 2012. Voters who don't like her now may be a little more inclined to give her a second chance after having "practiced" a bit more.

2a. In the event that Sen. Ted Stevens wins his reelection bid, the Senate may vote to expel him. After all, it would be awkward for Republicans to welcome a convicted felon to their ranks. This would allow a special election to be held in which Palin could conceivably run. If a Democrat is having so much difficulty beating a convicted felon in Alaska right now, it means that almost any Republican with a pulse could win an open election. Thus, Palin has a path to Washington.

Switching from Governor Palin to Senator Palin would not be in her best interests, however. While she would be able to keep herself in the news more easily, get more exposure to national issues, and meet a lot of the political power players, she would be under a tremendous microscope. The media and her political opponents would pounce on any gaffe she makes or any unpopular vote she casts. She would also have to explain why she voted for bills that contained wasteful spending, drastic cuts to popular programs, or other poison pills. She would have to explain why she voted against tax cuts, reducing spending, or decreasing the size of government. I'm not saying she will explicitly vote for or against these issues, but as a senator, she will be forced to support or oppose bills that have these provisions tucked inside. In the Senate, it's common for bills to have these kinds of poison pills or controversial amendments attached to them, even if they are unrelated to the general spirit of the bills involved.

These criticisms matter because they are the exact same criticisms she used against Barack Obama. (e.g., "Obama voted against cutting taxes 94 times!") So she will contradict several of the pillars of her political identity, such as being a reformer, practicing fiscal discipline, and eliminating waste. And as a senator, she will no longer be able to call herself a Washington outsider. As a senator, Barack Obama was wise to run as an agent of change, rather than an outsider. This means Palin would have to find a new mantle to run as well if she launches her own presidential bid in the future from the floor of the Senate.

2b. If Sen. Ted Stevens loses his reelection bid, Palin would have to wait until 2010 to challenge Alaska's other senator, Lisa Murkowski. If she defeats Murkowski in the Republican primary, she almost certainly would win the general election. And she might be a more effective senator if she starts in 2011, rather than 2009. Then she can run for the White House again in 2012 with a stronger hand, although the same Senate pitfalls apply. This option might be better for Palin in that it would at least allow her to get one complete term as Alaska's governor under her belt and allow the passage of time to heal some of the rifts that she created with the electorate in 2008. Also, her Republican contemporaries (Bobby Jindal, Charlie Crist, Mitt Romney, Haley Barbour, Tim Pawlenty, Mike Huckabee, and Mark Sanford) have more impressive resumes than she does. If Barack Obama's presidency is characterized by failure, it may place a greater premium on experience in 2012. Having served at least one complete term as governor would inoculate her from attacks on her resume.

3. Do nothing. At 44, Palin has at least a good 20 years left to consider running for the White House. If she keeps her profile low and keeps improving conditions in Alaska, a future Republican president will notice and may consider tapping her for a cabinet post or other special appointment. In 2020 or 2024, voters will be more likely to pay more attention to her cabinet-level service in a Republican administration than her performance in the 2008 campaign.

In the immediate future, Palin would be wise to become a bit less visible. While she clearly wants to remain relevant, she should be careful because a lot of what she is saying flatly contradicts her own campaign rhetoric (e.g., "I'm not focused on excessive partisanship.") and does little to assuage voters who believe she talks a lot, but doesn't say anything. It would seem to be in her best interests to refine her message a bit and bone up on her policy knowledge in Alaska first before competing on the national stage because any further missteps on her behalf could abort any further political ambitions she obviously has.

6 comment(s):

DB said...

In my opinion, she would have a stronger chance running for President if she takes more of a national role and site out the next contest. 2012 is too soon and I am sure the current batch of Republican candidates will eat her alive when it all starts up again in a couple years. They are gunning for her and their strongest arguments were made in the last couple months. In 2016 this will be all but forgotten and she will have so much more under her belt that she might actually be a formidable opponent. 2012 is too early for her, and if she runs again, it might hurt her chances further down the road.

On a personal note, I would love to see her run in 2012 as it will be rather interesting to see her up against her own people.

Anonymous said...

The best thing she could do for the republican party is finish her term as governor and become Dan Quails caddy.

BLT said...

I'm curious, has she talked about anything worth listening to? What does she bring to the table besides good looks?

BLT said...

To change the subject, what are your thoughts AP about Hillary becoming SOS?

Anthony Palmer said...


I agree that Palin should probably wait until 2016 or even later. The problem she risks having is an electorate that is burnt out on her. If you try TOO hard, I think voters sense it and it's a turnoff.

If Palin emerged as the nominee in 2012, Obama would have a field day with her in the debates. Many Democrats would be overjoyed. She is a perfect example of why base politics is insufficient these days.



Well, the folks in Alaska love her. They commonly cite her high approval rating. But I'm not so sure how much that approval rating means since the state is overwhelmingly Republican to deal with. This is not to take away from her success and popularity in Alaska, but I don't think her approval ratings would be anywhere near as high if she were the governor of a place like Virginia, which is more politically competitive.



I think Palin is often incoherent and has yet to prove that she can deliver a comprehensive answer on a serious policy issue. Until she meets that threshold, the criticisms of her will continue. Her "you betchas" and whatnot were mildly amusing at first, but now I think many people think she uses that language as a smokescreen to mask her lack of policy depth.

As for HRC becoming the Secretary of State, that might not be such a good idea because both Clintons form a package deal and Obama probably doesn't want two centers of gravity in his administration. I think she'd be better off as Attorney General than SoS. I'd put Bill Richardson at State, but I can understand why Obama would put John Kerry there instead. Obama really owes Kerry for giving him that speaking slot at the 2004 convention.

Thomas said...

Obama also owes John Kerry because he lost in 2004.

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