Commentary Magazine


The Palin Quandary

Sarah Palin has the ability to make news anytime, anyplace. She did that with the upcoming interview in the New York Times Magazine and in additional comments in which she explained the difficulty of remaining governor while bogus ethics charges and real security concerns plagued her. (“I don’t have the funds to pay for my family to travel with me, and the state won’t pay for it, either. I can’t afford to have security at my home — anybody can come up to my door, and they do. Under the laws of Alaska, anybody can file suit or an ethics charge against me, and I have to defend it on my own. I’m going into debt.”)

But the question remains: does she run for president and put herself in a position to lose her iconic standing, or does she continue as the organizer-fundraiser-newsmaker, which has made her wealthy and famous but not more popular with voters outside the conservative base? In a must-read piece of solid reporting, Jon Ward goes out among Tea Partiers to find out if Palin’s most devoted fans want her to run. The answer may surprise some:

Interviews over the last few months with numerous Tea Party and conservative voters in states around the country yielded no one who was enthusiastic about Palin running for president, though a handful said they were open to it. In addition, conservative and Tea Party leaders who are speaking to the grassroots regularly report that they have consistently heard the same thing.

These are the sorts of comments he hears from Tea Party activists:

“She’s got too many negatives, not for me, but for too many people. So I think she’s better off on the outside looking in.”
“I would like to see someone else emerge. I think she’s too divisive. … It’s good for her to be part of the party. I have nothing against her. But I just think a leader has to be more articulate than she is. I just don’t think that person’s emerged yet.”

“I’m not sure if we have seen the one who needs to run. It has to be someone who can articulate the conservative message like a Buckley or Reagan. … We have time to find someone. I do like Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio.”

And there are others. Those whom Ward spoke with are not unnamed party insiders with a motive to bolster their own candidates’ standing. These are Tea Party attendees willing to go on record and face their fellow activists. In short, these are the people most sympathetic to the causes Palin champions.

What’s interesting is that the reaction of ordinary Tea Partiers is not that far removed from leaders both in the Tea Party and in establishment circles. A Tea Party leader tells Ward:

“Lot’s love her on a personal level, and as a conservative icon, but I haven’t heard widespread support for her as a presidential candidate,” he said. “I think the candidates who will be on top in 2012 have yet to really emerge from the pack. … Folks have interest in Mike Pence and of course [Sen. Jim] DeMint. I would guess that if asked, DeMint would be the top choice of Tea Party folks right now. He’s fighting the establishment from inside, and I think that will be a plus in 2012.”

And a conservative leader chimes in:

“I think people love to hear her speak and love that she’s out there stirring the waters and challenging the status quo,” the conservative leader said, asking that his name not be used. “But I don’t get the sense that they’re ready to say, ‘She’s the one we want to see as president.’”

“You would think if people were going to coalesce around her that would be happening. And quite frankly I don’t see it,” he said.

Palin and her defenders would no doubt say that none of these people are representative of sentiment in the party. But at some point, the candidate has to take these kinds of  reports — by credible conservative-leaning outlets — and the ample poll data seriously if she is serious about a run. She will have to weigh the risk that she may not prevail (either in the primary or the general election), and thereby lose her aura and the anticipation of a future candidacy.

In that regard, as in so many other ways, she is unique. For the average pol, a presidential run, even an unsuccessful one, raises his profile and gives him new credibility and earning power. For Palin, it may be the opposite.

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