Alex Massie

Sarah Palin is Mitt Romney’s Useful Idiot

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The glib answer to this is to suggest that she'd do the party a great service by not running at all. Yesterday I wrote that she's a "wrecker not a uniter" and that she could hijack the primary season to disastrous effect. That's clearly one possibility. But there are others, including some which might actually help the GOP and not merely by demonstrating the limits of Palinism and, consequently, lancing that particular boil.

Though I think he under-estimates Palin's fund-raising potential, Daniel Larison runs through some of the that make it most unlikely that Palin can actually win the GOP nomination. And as Daniel says, right now the most probable beneficiary of a Palin candidacy is our old friend Shameless Mitt Romney.

Until now Romney has been tacking towards the nationalist base. But Mitt's not very good at phoney populism and it shows. Put Palin in the race, however, and the equation changes: there's no point in Romney going after the type of voters most attracted to Palin (and, to a lesser extent, Mike Huckabee) which, mercifully for him, might spare Romney the embarrassment of trying, once again, to be something he's not. That would give Romney the space, and the motivation, to focus on what he does best: present himself as the problem-solvig technocrat who knows how to get things done.

True, there remains the problem of his Mormonism and his well-earned reputation for flip-floppery but in a field of adolescent midgets (thus far) Romney has the chance to present himself as the only grown-up in the room. Since the GOP, unless it changes the rules, awards delegates on a winner-takes-all basis, Romney only needs a plurality of voters to prevail. When push comes to shove, the Republican party will decide against lobotomising itself.

This, then, presents Romney with the opportunity to run the campaign he should have run in 2004. He's never going to be an exciting candidate and he should probably cease trying to be such. Putting Palin in the race, however, allows Romney to be Romney without having to pander (too much!) or make a fool of himself by trying to persuade the Palinistas that, deep down, he's one of them. 

All this may yet change, not least since it's possible that other candidates more exciting than Tim Pawlenty will also join the fray. But in as much as she serves a useful purpose, Palin's presence in the race allows Romney to concentrate on what he does best and, should he win the nomination, escape the primary season without having destroyed the GOP's chances to put up a decent fight in the fall.

As I say, this is all some distance away, but, at least potentially, this is one scenario in which Palin could actually help, not hurt, the Republican party: she would make the eventual nominee look much more respectable than might be the case if he has to spend the primary season wrestling for the Palin constituency. In other words, by providing something to run against, she helps the party become the kind of sensible, pragmatic, problem-focused, grown-up organisation that might actually be worth voting for...

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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