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Sarah Palin’s Certain Type of Genius

Over at Slate, no fan club of Sarah Palin’s, John Dickerson concedes:

Sarah Palin has special medicine. That’s about the only clear conclusion to be drawn from Tuesday’s primary results. She backed five candidates in Arizona, Florida, and Alaska—and they all won. The rest of the results from the evening defied easy matching. The themes of anti-incumbency and voter anger are still out there, but the candidates who mastered those forces (or avoided them) did so in different ways.

The aspect of Palin that elicits admiration and respect even from liberal critics is her unerring eye for political talent and her certain genius for understanding where the public is going, usually before it does. It is what makes record producers and TV execs famous and rich: a feel for the public’s taste that defies conventional wisdom and relies not so much on careful analysis (who’d have imagined a slick series about ad execs in the 1960s would prove so addictive for so many viewers?) but on gut instinct.

As Dickerson notes:

Twenty of the candidates she’s endorsed have won. Ten have lost. That’s a pretty good record. Her biggest victory looks like it might come in the Republican Senate primary in her home state. … She didn’t go all out for [likely upset winner Joe] Miller but she worked for him more than a lot of her other endorsed candidates, promoting his candidacy but also tearing down his opponent. Palin can take some credit for a portion of his good showing. … Palin now has more support for a favorite story line of hers: The pundits and so-called experts said things were going to go one way but she had faith; she knew the real deal. This is part of her larger pitch: that she understands something fundamental about conservative voters.

And it’s not simply candidates that she gets right. Her death-panel zinger not only revealed an underlying truth about ObamaCare’s plans to ration care; she also managed, with a hot button phrase, to electrify critics and infuriate defenders of the bill. Her populist appeal, and sometimes overdone criticism of elite media, was in 2008 a precursor of the Tea Party movement — conservatism that is anti-establishment, small-government-minded, and celebrates individual responsibility.

Now, being a political soothsayer and a superb judge of talent (she plucked Nikki Haley out of obscurity by watching a single video) doesn’t ensure a successful candidacy or an effective presidency. But it’s not nothing. And having experienced an over-credentialed pseudo-intellectual president who lacks a basic understanding of the American people, the public may find something refreshing about someone who “gets” what the country is about. Palin knows what to look for in candidates because she is in sync with the center-right zeitgeist. If she knows what the country is about and what makes it successful, the argument would go, she might possess, as Dickerson explains, “a special light to guide the country out of the muck.” (This was the secret to Ronald Reagan, by the way. It didn’t matter what the issue was — he would get it “right” because he instinctively understood the superiority of free markets, the destiny of America, and the character of his fellow citizens. Yes, all caveats apply, and Palin is not Reagan.)

It’s not clear whether Palin will run in 2012 or could even win the nomination, but her potential opponents and the media underestimate her at their peril. And if she doesn’t win, whichever Republican does would be crazy not to take her counsel and guidance. The lady knows a thing or two about how to win races.


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