What Will Palin Do Next?
Sarah Palin’s weird resignation is still rocking the political world, especially since the Michael Jackson funeral has driven comparatively unimportant topics such as U.S.-Russia relations well off the radar. (I didn’t plan to watch the Jackson special, but some unexpected events led me to a seat in a McDonald’s under a TV showing it. Al Sharpton—who to my knowledge had absolutely nothing to do with Jackson when he was alive—was speaking, which tells you all you need to know about it). So political news is stuck on the last big story, and every pundit out there is frantically trying to figure why Palin resigned, and where she goes from here.
Such speculation about Palin’s is utterly pointless, of course, since there isn’t anything to go on besides her weird farewell speech, and while it isn’t particularly easy to decipher is clear enough to speak for itself. Palin seems to have quit due to three main reasons—frustration at her limited influence as Alaska’s governor, disgust over the constant media scrutiny of her family, and weariness about the constant and—so far—groundless ethical complaints.
Those reasons aren’t really that compelling. Governor of Alaska might not be the most influential position in politics, but still, it does have some influence, and Palin’s assertion that she is now a “lame duck” because she won’t run for reelection in a year and a half is just strange. Any while the ethics complaints are no doubt annoying, and expensive for Alaska, few if any of them seem to be valid, and they are a part of the job. (Note: if, as some speculate, it turns out Palin resigned due to a ethical or personal scandal, ignore that last sentence).
Palin’s concern for her family is the closest thing she had to a legitimate reason to quit. The attacks on her, and her family, have been really over-the-top and cruel, and there doesn’t seem to have been much fact-checking involved. But she seems to have an intention of staying in politics—she mentioned a “higher calling” and quoted O.P. Smith, saying that she “wasn’t retreating, but advancing in another direction,” and opened a Twitter account.
Palin seems to want a political future. But does she have one? Every cable news pundit has tried to answer that question, and if so, to guess how Palin will try to rebrand herself.
My guess, which is completely unfounded and is almost certainly wrong (but every other blogger is doing the same thing, so can you blame me?), is that Palin is planning a presidential run built solely on a populist platform. Palin doesn’t seem to be particularly popular with the elites in the Republican party, and there can’t be many Washington power brokers who like her. The mainstream media still dislikes her, so creating a favorable image with these handicaps, while stuck as governor of an unimportant and isolated state, may have seemed like too daunting a challenge. Palin is still popular among the conservative rank and file, so she may very well have felt going populist was the way to go.
Now, Palin is free to pull down lots of cash via speaking gigs, and can spend more of her time writing her book. (Or, possibly, supervising her ghostwriter’s work). She will, I think, run for president in 2012, and if she does, she will run only on the cult of personality that is Sarah Palin. She won’t have anything else—expect perhaps for the support of Rush Limbaugh and some of Fox News, which is not inconsiderable. But she will be forced to do without any help from the Republican party or many interest groups, at any rate unless she wins the nomination.
Would a Palin populist platform succeed? It shouldn’t. Palin showed promise as John McCain’s running mate, and didn’t do terribly poorly in a very difficult position, but since then has become a broken record (always whining about media unfairness, and if her complaints are not invalid, they do become tedious), and has acted unpardonably in her resignation. I couldn’t imagine myself voting for her.
I would guess that many Republicans feel the same way. But it doesn’t do to underestimate Sarah Palin. If an unlikely 2012 run succeeded, she would hardly be the first presidential candidate to win on little more than a smile and a speech. (Obama springs to mind, and so does Kennedy). Palin probably won’t ever be president now, and probably won’t ever even come close. But she does have some remarkable talent, and it would be foolish to write her off.
Another note. Some pundits are saying that Palin was foolish to accept McCain’s running mate offer. She might regret it, but politically, it was a smart move to make. She was governor of Alaska, and such offers don’t often come along for people in that position. Accepting McCain’s offer was the wisest course for her.