What's Next for Palin?
So, with the presidential election over, Barack Obama will become President of the United States, Joe Biden will become Vice President, and John McCain will serve out the rest of his time in the U.S. Senate. Sarah Palin’s fate is less certain—she has an interesting political future ahead of her.
Her situation at present is not without precedent. On one side of the ideological fence, Palin is nigh-universally loved and respected. Over eighty percent of Republicans have a favorable view of Palin, and she seems to be the Republican frontrunner for 2012. She is viewed, at present, as Miss Conservative; a perfect model of conservative thought.
To the other half of the country, she’s a punch line. She’s seen as frighteningly extremist; as well as laughably unqualified. An entire Palin mythology has sprang up among Democrats—she didn’t know that Africa is a continent (is that even possible for a governor?), she was unaware of which countries are in NAFTA, she “went rogue” and started going after William Ayers without campaign permission. She is a sort of Democrat bogeyman, a terrifying “what if” to frighten the base.
Sound like anyone we know? Yes, Sarah Palin occupies the exact position once occupied by Hillary Clinton, except the parties are reversed. And we all know how the Hillary saga turned out. She came very close to winning the White House—had it not been for an unexpected, smooth-talking Illinois Senator, Hillary Clinton would probably have beaten McCain and become our first female president.
Palin could do nearly the same thing, except she could actually win her party’s nomination. The Republican party tends to embrace the next person in line as its nominee (the last time they didn’t was in 1964, with Barry Goldwater), and Palin is the next in line. And Palin is probably the politician most identified with the Republican party, which would have to be an advantage in getting the nomination.
Palin’s other advantages are pretty obvious. She is (at times) articulate and compelling. She has a sky-high approval rating as governor of Alaska. And she is, of course, attractive and has a wonderful family, and seems to embody the American Dream.
Further, there really aren’t that many strong Republican candidates on the horizon. Mike Huckabee is far more articulate and funny than Palin, but he lacks support from the conservative base. Mitt Romney has money, but no charisma or ability to connect with voters. Bobby Jindal is smart and conservative, but little known (though that could change before 2012).
On the other hand, Palin has some tough obstacles to overcome as well. Over half the nations thinks she’s stupid, which is a bit of a problem when running for president. And her situation in Alaska might not be as secure as it looks—being an oil producing state, Alaska depends on $74 dollar a barrel oil to balance its budget. Oil’s at $60 right now. And as Hillary Clinton proved, highly polarizing candidates don’t always play well with voters.
Palin has a lot of room to succeed—and a lot of room to fail. She will have to eradicate the impression that she is unintelligent, which will be quite hard—Gerald Ford was perhaps the most athletic president ever, but one trip and fall gave him an unshakeable reputation as someone exceptionally clumsy. But hard or not, Palin must succeed.
Palin has one more weapon that could help her do so. America voted Barack Obama into the White House because he promised “change” (tempered, of course, by “hope”). Palin represents much the same attraction—she bills herself as an original, outside-the-Beltway thinker. That isn’t a qualification for the presidency, or any other office, but if the word “change” could make Barack Obama the most powerful man in the world, then it is not inconceivable that “outside-the-Beltway” could do much the same for Palin. Palin’s attractive and inexperienced, but don’t underestimate her—she managed to go from mayor of Wasilla to three and a half million votes and a heartbeat away from the presidency in less than ten years.