Alex Massie

The Second Coming of Sarah Palin

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Well, kind of. America's most famous hockey mom is on Oprah this week, promoting her memoir. There's going to be an awful lot of Sarah Palin this week. In the Wall Street Journal, Weekly Standard and his own book, Matt Continetti tries to make the case that Palin is, or rather could be, a populist standard-bearer in the tradition of Andrew Jackson, William Jennings Bryan and Ronald Reagan.

Some of Continetti's argument is easy to mock. When he points out that Palin's not as unpopular as some people think, the examples of less popular pols he finds are John Edwards (cheated on his cancer-stricken wife) and Nncy Pelosi (who is, well, Nancy Pelosi). These examples actually weaken Continetti's case.

One of the problems facing Palin's supporters is that she has resolutely declined to interest herself in anything that would make her a credible candidate on the national stage. Like many populists she is clear about what she's against, but not what she's for beyond slogans, the lighting of torches and the wielding of pitchforks. This is not something you could say about Reagan.

Indeed, the nouveau-populists have to claim Reagan as one of their own since, without him, the last successful populist champion was Jackson. One populist victory in 160 years suggests that there are severe limits to what populism can achieve in American politics.

At the moment, the most successful Republican politicians in America, such as Indiana's Mitch Daniels, are pragmatists. (You could put Bob McDonnell's campaign in Virginia in this category too.) Palin prefers the simplicity of the ideologue. She has done precisely nothing to better-acquaint herself with the issues, nor to persuade anyone who didn't already agree with her on everything that she's a candidate worth supporting. And since the base is not enough (except in 2004 and even then only just) that's not a recipe for winning.

Perhaps she's not really interested in winning. It may be that Palin prefers being a celebrity to anything as tedious as building a successful political coalition.

Now this brand of populism may well help the GOP in the mid-terms but I wager it will prove counter-productive in 2012. If Barack Obama's presidency is perceived as a disaster, voters will want a Republican candidate who can offer plausible solutions to the problems the working and middle-classes face. There's n evidence, thus far, that Sarah Palin has any interest in addressing these matters.

Nor, of course, does her abrupt resignation help her. Fairly or not - and, I'd guess fairly - it makes her a quitter, not a fighter. Being a celebrity proved more appealling than the tedious business of governing Alaska. Whatever else it may be, this seems a pretty roundabout route to the White House.

All of which is a shame. When she was first nominated I, like plenty of other folk, wondered if picking her might have been a desperate piece of inspiration that a flagging McCain campaign sorely needed. Then, of course, Palin started talking and everything began to unravel. She wasn't up to the job of being Veep and she's done nothing since to advance her claims to running for the party's nomination in 2012.

The danger for the GOP, however, is that Palin and Palinism might hijack the party's primary season in 2012, leaving the eventual nominee crippled before the general election even begins. Palin is a wrecker, not a uniter.

While, sure, one ought not to rule out the possibility that some miraculous turnaround might happen, the idea that Palin is the answer is baffling. There are plenty of people who are populists in their hearts but, when push comes to shove and the moment arrives when they actually cast their ballot, they tend to vote for pragmatists, even boring ones, rather than glamorous populists.

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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