The Republican Party’s Sarah Palin Problem (A-g-a-i-n)
In the Godfather III Michael Corleone famously says, “Just when I thought I was out..they pull me back in.” Just when many in the Republican Party thought they were out of the Sarah Palin era the the problems that came with it, it’s clear the Sarah Palin problem remains.
And, oh yes, we’ll get emails and texts about how we just don’t get her incredible appeal. Well, according to polls, neither does much of the voting public which includes many non-lockstep conservative Republicans. The latest comes from Byron York of The Washington Examiner on the continuing problem the GOP faces from the high profile of Palin, now more of a celebrity than a serious candidate. But she gets attention.
s a chance to evaluate possible 2016 Republican presidential candidates, the Freedom Summit here in Des Moines was a solid success. Several potential candidates — Scott Walker, Ted Cruz, Chris Christie, and a few others — left the 10-hour political marathon with their prospects undeniably enhanced.
All that was good news for Republicans. But at the same time, more than a few GOP loyalists came away shaking their heads at the performance of a party star, former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, whose long, rambling, and at times barely coherent speech left some wondering what role she should play in Republican politics as the 2016 race begins in earnest.
What’s going on with Palin is the crash-and-burn of her political creds, a process that began after she gave what by all political anaylist accounts was a masterful speech before the GOP 2008 convention after Arizona Sen. John McCain plucked her from relative obscurity to make her his running mate — and someone who would later work to undermine the kind of Republicanism many (mistakenly?) thought McCain had championed. As soon as Palin began doing media interviews after her speech, her downward process (except among partisan Republicans) continued: she never GREW in stature, never tried to woo anyone except the lockstep partisans who supported her and — in general — many felt she didn’t want to put in the work to become a larger and more serious force within the party and nationally.
And now the process is nearly complete:
First, Palin embarked on an extended stream-of-consciousness complaint about media coverage of her decision to run in a half-marathon race in Storm Lake, Iowa in 2011. She then moved on to grumbling about coverage of a recent photo of her with a supporter who had made a sign saying “Fuc_ you Michael Moore” in reaction to the left-wing moviemaker’s criticism of the film “American Sniper.” Then it was on to Palin’s objections about the social media ruckus over a picture of her six-year-old son Trig standing on the family’s Labrador Retriever.
It was all quite petty, and yet the complaining took half of Palin’s allotted time. She then proceeded to blow through her time limit with a free-association ramble on Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, the energy industry, her daughter Bristol, Margaret Thatcher, middle-class economics — “the man can only ride ya when your back is bent” — women in politics, and much more. It would be hard to say that Palin’s 35-minute talk had a theme, but she did hint that she is interested in running, although there are no indications she has taken any actual steps in that direction.
It’s a classic case of someone who doesn’t do her homework and decides to just (right) wing it.
“Long and disjointed,” said one social conservative activist when asked for reaction. “A weird speech,” said another conservative activist. “Terrible. Didn’t make any sense.”
But when did making sense or being factual matter to many on the far right of the GOP, or those aspiring to win over the hard right? Just look at Bobby Jindall.
“There was a certain coarseness to her that wasn’t there before,” said yet another social conservative who noted that some in the crowd were uncomfortable with Palin declarations like, “Screw the left in Hollywood!” (It’s not that they like the left in Hollywood — just the opposite — but the crudeness of Palin’s expressions turned them off.)
“I know she is popular, but it is hard to take her seriously given that performance,” said Sam Clovis, the conservative Iowa college professor, radio commentator, and sometime political candidate. “Palin was a sad story Saturday. With every speech she gives, she gets worse and worse. If one were playing a political cliche drinking game, no one would have been sober after the first 15 minutes of an interminable ramble. It was really painful.”
“I think she has a role in the conservative movement and in the party,” Clovis continued, “but she needs to get serious about what it is she can contribute and accomplish.”
To be fair, it should be noted that Clovis ran in the 2014 Republican Senate primary against Joni Ernst — a race in which Palin endorsed Ernst. (Citizens United, a sponsor of the Freedom Summit, endorsed Clovis.) But Clovis was by no way alone in faulting Palin’s performance.
“Calling Gov. Palin’s remarks bizarre and disjointed would be charitable,” said a well-connected Iowa Republican. “Her shelf-life, even with the most conservative voters in our party, seems to be near the end. In a day filled with strong performances from likely candidates ranging from Scott Walker to Ted Cruz, her remarks were a distraction.”
Shelf life is a good way to put it.
Republicans were using Palin Ham and Baloney Soup way beyond the expiration date. The country read and observed that date a long time ago.
But there’s a time when even though you might keep something around beyond the expiration date you realize it’s time to get it off the shelf.
The GOP isn’t there yet, but it’s getting closer. Still, Palin still makes the big bucks.
I wonder what her next reality show will be called? Given what was rolled out, you couldn’t call a reality show “Freedom Summit.”