The chattering class is obsessed with the potential for a Sarah Palin presidential run. She may well take the plunge. But in the meantime and perhaps as an alternative career course, she just might become the most influential king-maker in the GOP. She has the grassroots appeal to stamp outsider candidates as authentic populists. That’s what she did today with Carly Fiorina in the hotly contested California senate primary race, declaring that “Carly is the Commonsense Conservative that California needs and our country could sure use in these trying times. She’s not a career politician. She’s a businesswoman who has run a major corporation. She knows how to really incentivize job creation. Her fiscal conservatism is rooted in real life experience. She knows that when government grows, the private sector shrinks under the burden of debt and deficits.”
This seems significant for at least three reasons. First, Palin is now, as they say in advertising, in the business of “branding” Commonsense Conservatives, a descriptor she introduced in her memoirs. Some might argue it’s not very specific, but neither is “hope” or “change.” It is a shorthand expression for a populist, a Palin-maverick. Not every politician, no matter how skilled or competent, can get the sort of name recognition that Palin has, and she is using it not only to lift the profile of other Republicans, but herself as well. Second, Palin endorsed Rand Paul in Kentucky, who raises concerns with many conservatives on foreign policy and national-security issues (as, of course, does Rand’s father Paul). It is significant and perhaps reassuring to national-security conservatives that Palin is giving the nod to Fiorina in her race against Tom Campbell, who’s taken a drubbing over his Israel record. And finally, as in the Rand Paul endorsement, this suggests a certain riskiness on Palin’s part. Both or either of her senate picks could lose, thereby dimming Palin’s star. But she’s rolling the dice.
We still don’t know whether Palin will run in 2012. But we’re going to find out fairly soon if her star power is transferable to others.