Commentary Magazine


Note to Palin: GOP Needs More than a Mouth

As expected, Fox News cut its ties with Sarah Palin on Friday. The former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential candidate had worn out her welcome at the network over the last year and her brand had lost a lot of its pizzazz after sitting out the 2012 presidential contest and new conservative voices had come to the fore. Though she remains a cult favorite among some on the right and a convenient punching bag for the left, in a party with a large cast of rising stars like Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan and with Rand Paul looking to expand his appeal beyond his father’s libertarian base, her hold on the affections of the Tea Party and/or the GOP base looks tenuous at best. It’s likely that Fox decided she was yesterday’s news.

Palin is taking the blow with her customary defiance. In her first interview since the announcement, she channeled John Paul Jones as she told Breitbart News that she “hadn’t yet begun to fight.”  She spoke about the need for conservatives to go outside their comfort zone and to stop “preaching to the choir.” That’s good advice, though it’s hard to see how anyone as polarizing as Palin is going to get moderates to listen to anything she has to say.

While it’s not clear what her next step is, anyone who writes her off completely is bound to wind up looking silly. She lost a lot of her credibility when she resigned her governorship and then made a number of puzzling career choices, which did nothing but further marginalize her as a serious political figure. But the raw political talent that dazzled so many conservatives in 2008 is still there, even if she spent the last four years acting like a reality TV show star and alienating many people who once wished her well. The problem for Palin is not in finding another platform for her views (something that is all but a given in this era of social media and proliferating political websites) but that if she still harbors an ambition to be more than just another talking head, she’s going to have to something more than talk.

Palin’s shrinking fan base still hopes she will return to the fray in 2016. Her spring tour of the East Coast in 2011 just as the presidential race was starting demonstrated that she hadn’t lost her star power even if she seemed as unprepared as ever to face the scrutiny of a hostile press. But as the Republican Party licks its wounds from its second defeat at the hands of Barack Obama, most of those who will be considered for the job of leading it back to the White House have one thing in common that Palin lacks: job resumes that show that they either have the guts to fight the Democrats in Washington as Rubio, Ryan and Paul are doing or a record of showing how Republicans can run a state on conservative principles, as Jindal and Christie are proving.

Each of them has different virtues as well as different faults, but all have spent the time since Obama was first elected on the frontlines of the battle against liberalism. It may be that not having a job is something of an advantage in a presidential campaign, but as the years go by the more Palin has taken on the aspect of a celebrity rather than a politician, let alone a political thinker. Celebrity counts a lot in our day and age, but it cannot transform a person who has done everything in her power not to be taken seriously into the sort of person whom Republicans, let alone the general electorate, will trust with the fate of the nation.

Sarah Palin is still a relatively young woman and has a long career of advocacy in front of her. But if she really wants to get back in the political arena, at some point she’s going to have to demonstrate that she’s capable of doing something more than run her mouth. Facebook postings and Internet videos don’t compare well to running a state or standing up to the Democrats in Congress. Unless she decides to get back in the fight somewhere other than on the radio or TV, the odds are she’s going to spend 2016 and every other subsequent presidential year the same place she spent 2012: on the sidelines with fewer and fewer people paying attention to what she says or does.

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