Commentary Magazine


The Damage Sarah Palin Could Do shows Sarah Palin’s favorability rating to be 31.4 percent while her unfavorability rating is 59.9 percent.

These numbers are dreadful. If Palin were to be the GOP nominee, she would lead the ticket to a crushing loss for Republicans at almost every level in a year (2012) when they should win the presidency and make significant down-ballot gains.

It’s certainly true that some of the criticisms of Palin have been unfair and driven by an almost irrational animus toward her. She is not a woman without talents, including the ability to generate media attention and excitement among some elements of the GOP base. But it’s also true that she has brought much of the criticisms on herself (see Kimberly Strassel’s column for more). Palin radiates a sense of grievance that is antithetical to the Reagan style and spirit. And in interviews and on matters of policy, she often comes across as shallow. The problem isn’t that she’s not a public intellectual; it’s that she doesn’t seem able to sustain an argument beyond simply reciting talking points.

Some of her supporters like to say that those on the right who point out Palin’s flaws are part of the inside-the-Beltway ruling class, out of touch, insufficiently conservative, drawn to moderates and RINOs (Republican in Name Only), and so forth. About this I would say several things.

The first is that the concerns about Palin aren’t confined to inside-the-Beltway elites; it’s actually fairly broad and extends throughout much of the nation. Those who admire her shouldn’t manufacture arguments that don’t exist in order to make Palin seem more appealing than she is. Her supporters may think her unpopularity is unmerited, but her unpopularity is also real, undeniable, and problematic.

Second, some of us who have been publicly critical of Sarah Palin for some time now have also publicly praised figures like Paul Ryan (among others), which complicates the argument that Palin’s critics are faux conservatives. Indeed, many of us who have expressed concerns about her have done so precisely because of what we believe would happen to conservatism if Palin were its major spokesperson. If Sarah Palin were the Republican nominee, she would inflict massive damage on conservatism and the GOP. Which is one reason why she won’t be the GOP nominee. (I would be quite surprised if she even entered the contest.)

Now my analysis may be completely wrong-headed, although the data show that it’s probably correct. But to argue, as some do, that Palin’s critics on the right are not authentic conservatives misses the mark by quite some distance.