Alex Massie

Sarah Palin: For Real and For 2012

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Like Time's Jay Newton-Small, I've never quite understood why so many Washington pundits have assumed Sarah Palin has no interest in running for President. Sure, she's not been playing the game according to the Beltway Playbook but that's exactly the point. As Jay reminds us, Mrs Palin has previous on this:

In many ways, Palin's moves mirror her run for governor. She came from the outside, taking down the GOP establishment, including the formidable Governor Frank Murkowski. She stayed on the outside for months, not bothering to build a campaign but delivering key speeches across the state attacking “the old boys club” that raised speculation she'd potentially run. And, finally, when she did announce her campaign burst into life fully formed.

1. Money. She will raise enough to be properly competitive. In one sense this is a simple Viability Question that, in the end, seperates her from the likes of Huckabee. Palin won't need the party's tradition - establishment! - fundraising network. Like Obama (and Howard Dean and Ron Paul, albeit on a more limited scale) she'll rake in cash from small donations.

2. She has a natural constituency that extends some way beyond the Grizzly Mamas. What's Tim Pawlenty's constituency? (Dull Midwestern Sorta Competence! You Know It Won't Win!) The reach of Palin's constituency - part of which is made up of those who feel themselves excluded, marginalised, snubbed and patronised by the party bigwigs - is one reason why suggestions that Palin become GOP Chairman only make sense inside the Beltway. To everyone else in Palinland that would be an act of treachery, selling out to the very people Palin is supposed to be battling.

3. People assume that she's more interested in appearing on TV and in making as much money as she can. All true, but Sarah Palin is also, I suspect, interested in being famous and in promoting herself as, for want of a better way of putting it, a kind of political brand. In as much as TV and all the rest of it helps establish that it also boosts her political credibility.  There's a caste of voters - elitists! - who think working for Fox diminishes her credibility among "serious" people and perhaps they're right but, again, Palin desires their disapproval and their disdain. She needs it to be the Joan of Wasilla her followers crave. So what if she communicates through Facebook? Beltway Wisdom splutters that This Is Against The Time-Honoured Rules and Conventions. The more of this the better it is for Palin.

4. The rules that apply to a Pawlenty or a Romney don't apply to Palin. That makes her a dangerous opponent and one who can get away with blunders that might sink another campaign. She's not about issues or policy or any of that old hat. Her candidacy is based on emotion and an attitude or state of mind. That means her followers are unusually devoted and hence dangerous. To outsiders it can all seem like a series of poses but the supporters don't see it like that.

5. Ego. When thousands of people are clamouring for you to be President it can be difficult to suppress the thought that, gosh, Maybe They're Right! sometimes - eg, Joe Lieberman - you don't even need to hear a clamour to convince yourself that you're what the country needs.

6. Relatedly, her criticisms of the Obama administration are such that if she really believes what she says is true then, frankly, it would be unpatriotic not to run. She has the resources to do it, she has a large number of supporters. What's stopping her from running? Surely not the Nasty Media? If she doesn't run then she risks being nothing more than a populist Newt Gingrich: on TV inexplicably often and always promising much but never actually delivering anything. Sort of famous but also entirely irrelevant. And Gingrich, remember and whatever his other faults, at least comes up with ideas. Palin does not. So she'd be a kind of B-List Gingrich.

7. But might that not happen if she runs and loses? Yes it might and that's the risk she takes. This is her window and her moment. 2016 is too late so it's 2012 or bust. If she decides not to play then she invites everyone to ignore her and begins the process of slowly fading from the national and media consciousness. Eventually even the press might tire of ceaselessly rising to her provocations like so many dumb Pacific Salmon. And then who will care what Sarah Palin has to say about anything?

8. She's not stupid so I guess she knows that it's Now or Never. The Republican party is leaderless at present and the putative front-runner for the nomination - Romney - has all kinds of obvious weaknesses that make him less formidable than previous favourites for the GOP nomination. Add the fact that conservatives are almost certain to misinterpret the meaning of their mid-term gains this November and that this misinterpretation will futher encourage and validate Palinism and you create a perfect moment for her to emerge from the ashes and soar...

But can she win? Well that's a different type of bear altogether. I think it unlikely, but it depends on what kind of organisation she builds. I'm not sure that we should be higely confident in her ability to construct and manage the kind of infrastructure needed for a presidential campaign but this may underestimate her and the quality of the people she puts in place. Then again, running a good campaign is not the same question as deciding whether or not to run at all.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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