Commentary Magazine


The Myth of Palin’s Influence

Alana’s question as to why Sarah Palin continues to toy with the public and the Republican presidential field and refuses to issue a firm endorsement of one candidate is a good one. I believe the answer, however, has more to do with her desire to try to hog the spotlight for as long as possible than it does with any inane hopes on her part of a deadlocked GOP eventually turning to her as a savior or even her obligations to Fox News. But after last night’s Florida result, there is an even better query to be posed to those who spent much of the last week touting the former Alaska governor as a difference maker in the South Carolina primary.

If Palin’s unofficial endorsement was thought by some observers, including smart people like the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol, to have had some influence on the outcome in South Carolina, what conclusions should we draw from the fact that her call for Floridians to “rage against the machine” and vote for Gingrich doesn’t seem to have had the same effect?

The answer is obvious. While there may be a few conservatives who look to Palin for guidance, most disregarded her advice. Exit polls of those voting yesterday show Romney had a slight edge among Tea Party backers over Gingrich (winning 40-38 percent), and finished in a virtual statistical tie with him among evangelicals (losing them by a 38-37 percent margin). These are, after all, the two groups we are told are Palin’s base of support. Yet Romney–not her choice of Gingrich–held his own among them and won the overall vote by a huge margin.

We will, no doubt, continue to hear a great deal from her so long as she remains on Fox’s payroll. But as the primary season proceeds with more opportunities for her counsel to be ignored by GOP voters, her stock will continue to sink. All of which ought to remind Palin’s credulous fans as well as journalists that the idea of her influence over Republican voters is more myth than reality.