Politics

Sarah Palin’s out of 2012: a curtain comes down on America’s biggest political strip tease

By J Brooks Spector 7 October 2011

After months of a bravura-style “Will she? Won’t she?” tease on the American political stage, Sarah Palin has announced she will not make a run for the Republican Party’s nomination for the presidency for 2012. As a result, political analysts and insiders say the Republican field is now essentially complete – and it is now a decidedly more boring one. By J BROOKS SPECTOR.

Palin rose to national prominence when 2008 Republican nominee for president John McCain plucked her from near-obscurity as Alaska’s governor to be his running mate as vice presidential candidate. As a speak-your-mind, let-the-chips-fall-where-they-may figure, Palin evolved into the national poster child for small government, individualistic, near-libertarian, do-it-yourself business values, mixed together with the social conservative positions embraced by the so-called family values crew. In the process, her candidacy gave a major boost to the visibility, impact and fortunes of the Tea Party that sent the political novices on their way into the 2010 congressional election victory and near ideological takeover of the GOP.

Palin’s positions were sometimes at odds with the truth that Alaska receives more federal government spending per capita than any other state in the country, and her own family circumstances sometimes rubbed uncomfortably against her policy prescriptions for others; nonetheless, Palin demonstrated an almost preternatural ability to connect with fervent supporters. This relationship blossomed in spite of – and sometimes, oddly enough, because of – a somewhat-tenuous grasp of issues and facts. This was evidenced by her inability to name any newspapers she read during a softball TV interview with news anchor Katie Couric, or her over-the-top assertion she understood foreign policy because Alaskans could “see” Russia from their front porches. (Which, of course, for all but 100 or so Alaskans on Diomede island, and during an incredibly clear day, was total hogwash.)

After resigning as Alaska’s governor before her first term had ended, but with the guidance of savvy media advisors, she turned herself into a mini-media conglomerate – launching as a Fox News special commentator and reality show subject, going on the road for high-paying public speaking gigs and launching the political memoir, “Going Rogue,” that fed in turn into highly paid public appearances across the country.

But in the end it came down to the polls – sounding after sounding demonstrated that while her supporters and acolytes would be willing to walk barefoot across glowing hot coals for her, a large majority of the country, and even a substantial majority of her own party, continued to say she was not their choice for the Republican nomination, let alone the presidency. (Also, many of the polled considered her crazy, backwards, not trust-worthy, desperately uneducated, to mention just a few descriptions)

Thus Palin, herself, had had to admit it would not work, after an evaluation of the tough course ahead if she took the plunge now – and in the face of a distinct lack of across-the-board support within her own party. Instead of running for office, instead she announced that she and her husband will “devote ourselves to God, family and country, in that order”. Then, adding “After much prayer and serious consideration, I have decided that I will not be seeking the 2012 GOP nomination for President of the United States. My family comes first and obviously Todd and I put great consideration into family life before making this decision.”

Echoing the views of many campaign vets, “This is virtually a win-win decision for her,” said Tracey Schmitt, a Republican strategist who had worked with Palin before. “By keeping her powder dry for whatever the future holds, she is preserving her power of celebrity.”

For months, Palin has been encouraging the rumors that she would get into the race by doing a highly publicised bus tour that included early primary and caucus states New Hampshire and Iowa, telling news magazines that she could win if she ran, and by taking repeated aim at President Obama on the social media networks. But, crucially, she never actually brought together the political operation needed for a serious campaign. Moreover, she kept pushing back her own decision deadline — first saying she would bite the bullet by the end of the summer, then by the end of September, then October or later. However, political party leaders kept moving the dates of the first primaries earlier and earlier, and filing deadlines to register as a candidate for some of these primaries were already looming. Finally an announcement and a decision came due.

A minor footnote, of course, is that this decision leaves her free to speak out on issues and candidates of her choice and raise campaign funds for candidates she likes – thereby collecting lots of chits for any future political career she decides on in the future. She is, after all, only in her late-ish forties now and it is even possible that her calculations included the possibility that 2016, or even 2020 and 2024 would be better bet than run against an incumbent president. Palin did, however, take care to appear on a popular conservative radio talk show to disavow any idea she would lead a third party campaign for 2012 – just in case Palin bitter enders were tempted to encourage her in that direction. Palin told listeners that “I would assume that a third party would just guarantee Obama’s re-election and that’s the last thing our republic can afford. So the consideration is not there for a third party, no. I believe that I can be more effective and I can be more aggressive in this mission in a supportive role of getting the right people elected.”

As a result of both Palin’s and New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s decision not to go for the nomination, Republican politicians, campaign activists and party professionals, as well as media commentators, now recognise the table of contenders is essentially complete. As Mark McKinnon, a former campaign adviser to George W. Bush and John McCain, said, “Cinderella’s not going to the ball, so Republican voters are going to have to settle for one of her ugly sisters.” Or, as the BBC’s correspondent in the US noted “With Christie out of the race as well, playtime is over. It is Mitt versus somebody, almost certainly Perry. This is the way it is. Will we miss the spills, the thrills, the glamour and the charisma? You Betcha!” – with the obvious reference to one of Palin’s trademark word choices.

Palin and Christie’s decisions now leave Republicans with the option of either Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney or – just possibly – businessman Herman Cain at the top of the heap, followed much less likely by Congressman Ron Paul, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, former Senator Rick Santorum and a few others like former Utah Governor and Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman. But Republican voters are going to have to give some real thought to what kind of candidate they want to have in opposition to Barack Obama.

Now that Obama seems to have reached back for the stiffening of “Give ‘em hell Harry”, Truman’s mantra from 1948 in his uphill battle against New York Governor Thomas Dewey, as well as third, and fourth-party candidates in the shape of segregationist Strom Thurmond and ultra-leftie Henry Wallace; Republicans will have an increasingly clear choice for their candidate. Do they want to be represented by a man who speaks from business and governmental competence and management skill in the person of Mitt Romney (with all his trademark policy flip-flops and awkward centrist tendencies), or do they want a “red meat” conservative in the person of Rick Perry as an ideological choice to Obama?

Just over a year before the election, this iMaverick correspondent is going to go way, way out on a limb and say that ultimately Republicans will pick Romney – he’s been standing in the queue, waiting, since 2008. Republicans will, reluctantly, be tempted more by the chance to win than by the opportunity to make a statement of rigid ideological purity. Yes, Romney can raise the money, he can pull together the first-class campaign staff, but he will need to become a looser, more mensch-like candidate on the stump in a way that radiates both competence and warmth – none of which he currently displays.

And so, with that in mind, watch for an early flirtation with someone like Marco Rubio, the Cuban-American Senator from Florida, as Romney’s vice presidential candidate pick – perhaps even signaled before the convention. This despite his recent denials he is interested in the nomination – after all, no one is supposed to run for that position. (Just ask the ANC people) Rubio’s popularity in the biggest swing state of them all makes him a tempting pick – and he’s got the kind of style that could fill up Romney’s charisma gap. Oh, and he’d be a real temptation for Democratic-leaning Hispanics to reconsider their allegiance for 2012 – and beyond. “You betcha.” DM



Read more:

  • Sarah Palin says she will not run for president in 2012 at the BBC;
  • Republican Palin decides not to run in 2012 at Reuters;
  • Playtime is over at the BBC;
  • Sarah Palin not running for president at the Washington Post;
  • A week that transformed the 2012 story line (EJ Dionne’s column) at the Washington Post;
  • Palin Says She’s Not Running in the New York Times;
  • The Long Stagnation, a joint column by David Brooks and Gail Collins in the New York Times.

Photo: REUTERS

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