Alex Massie

Sarah Palin Will Not Be the Republican Nominee

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Peter Beinart says the GOP is "her party now". Robert Lane Greene at the Economist says "she has to be considered the front-runner." Jon Chait and David Frum agree. So does Paul Mirengoff. Andrew Sullivan, unsurprisingly, asks "who can beat her?" Standing athwart this tide of pessimism - for none of those cited here want Palin to be the Republican nominee - are Ross Douthat and Daniel Larison.

I agree with Douthat and Larison. The case for presidential-nominee Palin rests upon the weakness of the field putatively lined up against her. (Assuming she runs herself, as I think she will.) It ignores the weaknesses of her own candidacy. Her support is deep but narrow and it is hard to see where she can win new supporters and those that she has already are not, probably, sufficiently numerous to win the nomination. How many currently undecided voters will break for Palin - the one candidate about whom almost everyone has already made up their mind? She is, if this is true, close to her maximum level of support already. Where do her extra votes come from?

Secondly, while there are plenty of conservatives who like the idea, at some level, of President Palin many of these sympathisers also suspect, however regrettably, that it's unlikely she can win the Presidency. Even though 66% of Republicans have a favourable view of the lapsed-Governor, just 24% of those conservatives say they plan on voting for Palin.

Or, look at it another way: despite doing everything she can to appeal to the conservative base Palin is polling no better, and often worse, than Romney, Huckabee and Gingrich. She came fifth in the Values Voters Summit straw poll, winning just 7% of the votes cast. If Palin really were the undisputed front-runner we'd expect her to enjoy a lead in the polls right now. At this stage of the cycle one thing is clear: she's no Hillary Clinton. If she is the front-runner she might be the weakest GOP front-runner since Gerald Ford.

Nor does the current success of the Tea Party movement (and of Palin-endorsed candidates) necessarily prove much. There's all the difference in the world between off-year primaries and the Presidential campaign season. In one voters are free to endorse their favourites; in the other they consider who might actually win in the general election. There will be a lot of "I like Sarah but I don't think she can win..."

Relatively few nominees in recent times have been chosen with any great measure of enthusiasm. Dole? Meh. Gore? Meh. McCain? Meh. Kerry? Super-meh. Granted, they all lost against opponents who did arouse enthusiasm from their supporters and this, I guess, may be Palin's best argument for her candidacy. But it's not enough to be some people's first choice, you also need to be other people's second-choice. How many second-preferences does Palin have? (That is: how many voters will plump for her once their favoured candidate is out the race or if they feel that their favoured candidate, alas, can't win?)

Practical considerations will also play a part. Palin hasn't been put on the spot, far less had to defend herself under-pressure since the 2008 election. But she won't be able to duck the rigours of a Presidential campaign. The hustings and debates will matter and will help decide which candidates are deemed "viable" not just by the media but by the voters too. And there will be many more of those voters in a Presidential primary than there are in off-year contests. (Would Sarah Palin win a GOP presidential primary in Delaware? I doubt it.)

Whatever her merits Sarah Palin is a minority taste within the GOP right now. What evidence is there to support the notion that, if the field were narrowed to two candidates, she would take home more than half the votes? She's going to have to run a "This is my sensibility" campaign, not a "This is my record" race. That too makes her task more difficult. At some point candidates have to have credible answers to that "What would you do?" question. Does Palin have those answers?

One final thought: things can change very quickly. In October and even November 2007 Howard Dean was the "inevitable" Democratic nominee. We remember how that turned-out don't we?

So while the temper of the conservative movement right now seems to favour Palin the limits of her appeal are also apparent. And since the GOP has decided to award delegates on a proportional rather than winner-takes-all basis also suggests the party establishment (damn them!) is hedging against any candidate romping to victory on the basis of the enthusiasm of a relatively small number of enthusiasts in small, early-voting states.

Sure, if the United States is still in an economic slump in 2011 then perhaps Palin's chances improve. But slogans and bromides and the rest of it aren't usually enough. If America decides it's tiref of Obama it will want a candidate with answers and plans. And that, at present, does not seem to be Palin's long suit.

In other words, she ain't gonna be the nominee. Probably...

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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