Every time it seems as if Sarah Palin has faded from sight, she manages to inject herself back into the national conversation if not the Republican presidential contest. During the weekend, Palin returned to view with both a Newsweek cover story and a posting on Facebook that made it plain she is not going to be supporting the woman whom many in the media and the grass roots of the GOP believe to be her natural successor as the avatar of the right: Michele Bachmann.
Palin seems to thrive on the ongoing speculation about her desire to run for the presidency. However, the race has fundamentally changed since she flirted with the idea earlier in the year. While in her Newsweek interview she joined the chorus of those who long for more candidates, most Republicans have said they are hoping for a figure to emerge who can unite both the party establishment and its grass roots. Which is to say, somebody like Paul Ryan or perhaps Rick Perry but most definitely not Sarah Palin.
Even worse for Palin has been the emergence of a candidate whose greatest appeal is to the same segments of the GOP where Palin was strongest: Michele Bachmann. In the past two months, Bachmann has energized both the Tea Party and social conservatives in a way highly reminiscent of the effect Palin had on these voters. While she has a long way to go and must now suffer the same sort of scrutiny of her life and family that drove Palin to distraction, Bachmann is leading in Iowa and must be considered to be running second to frontrunner Mitt Romney.
Yet those who thought Palin would support Bachmann figured wrong. In a lengthy Facebook posting, Palin seemed to echo Tim Pawlenty when she said the GOP must nominate someone with governing rather than just legislative experience. Her belief the candidate must have executive experience and not be someone who merely engages in oratory is an obvious shot at Bachmann. This may or may not be a signal Palin will run, but her resentment of Bachmann can’t be disguised.
The one interesting tidbit from the Newsweek story was Palin’s desire to recapture her image as a fearless independent that bucked the Alaska Republican machine. She’s right that everyone seems to have forgotten it was her stance as a fresh, good government maverick that caused John McCain to pick her as his running mate. But the responsibility for that Sarah Palin being replaced in the mind of the public by a seemingly different hard-core partisan with a thin skin and a not-ready-for-prime-time predilection for gaffes belongs as much to her as it does to a hostile liberal media.
If we’ve learned anything from all this, it’s that Palin doesn’t wish to be supplanted as the leader of the populist wing of the Republican Party. But though Palin may have meant her comments as a hint Republicans should appeal for her to run, it’s not likely many will take the hint. Nor, I think will many social conservatives or Tea Partiers dump the charismatic Bachmann just because Palin says so. If anything, a decision to publicly oppose Bachmann will diminish Palin’s brand rather than enhance it.