17 September 2010

Palin paranoia

I'll admit that we've been guilty of slamming the former half-term governor one too many times. Unlike some of her other critics, however, we aren't particularly worried about her prospects as a presidential contender.

Here at this site, we admire the work of Andrew Sullivan, but we think he's dead wrong that Sarah Palin is an unstoppable force in 2012.

Sullivan is wrong for the following reasons:

First: While Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney are quietly building both grassroots support and support among the Republican kingmakers, Palin has done nothing of the sort. Sullivan routinely makes the incorrect parallel between Barack Obama in 2008 and Palin in 2012 and suggests that Palin will enjoy a similar trajectory. Obama became such a force primarily because of his enormous apparatus in Iowa. This was a highly organized, well-funded operation staffed with political heavyweights like David Axelrod, David Plouffe and Tom Daschle. Palin has nothing of the sort. In fact -- other than making random endorsements of political lightweights like Christine O'Donnell and Joe Miller -- Palin hasn't done anything in preparation for 2012. if she believes that a handful of endorsements will swing the nomination her way, she's dead wrong.

Second: Conservative elites abhor Palin and realize she's unelectable. Mitch Daniels is making the rounds. Pawlenty and Romney have already done so. If Haley Barbour jumps in, he will no doubt have his share of high-dollar bankrollers. The GOP elites -- at AIPAC, the Heritage Foundation, the Wall Street Journal, investment bankers, oil barons, old Reagan & Bush hands -- are the ones who are the kingmakers. Unlike the GOP, the Democratic Party is made up of seemingly hundreds of interest groups like the NEA, the ACLU, labor unions and the NAACP that only the most impressive candidates (basically, Clinton and Obama) can pull together. This is precisely why small-dollar donors can be so effective in the Democratic Party (Howard Dean in 2004, Obama in '08) but not even make a dent in the GOP (e.g., Ron Paul) -- the Democratic Party is often fractured, and the GOP isn't.

More on this point: Every single Republican candidate has either been a political veteran who wins the nomination simply because it's "his" turn (Nixon in 1968, Bush in 1988, Dole in 1996, McCain in 2008) and/or has received the blessing of the party kingmakers. This was particularly manifested with George W. Bush's campaign in 2000. Bush wasn't a particularly devoted conservative, nor was he even well known at the time he announced his candidacy, but he was able to bury the rest of the field precisely because the blessing of the kingmakers meant he effectively had unlimited pockets. In 2012, Palin will not be as fortunate, because conservative elites want nothing to do with her.

Third: The tea party crowd, from whom Palin draws the vast majority of her support, aren't new voters. In fact, we've noted here before that the tea party is simply an appendage of the Republican base. Again, Sullivan's comparison between Obama '08 and Palin '12 is off on this point. Obama drew out millions of new voters to the polls -- people who had never been politically active before and many who had never even voted. Palin won't be able to do the same thing. Her supporters are people who vote routinely. Although a few may be newcomers, most are not. Sullivan and many liberal critics who seem to be horrified by Palin assume that Palin has single-handedly drawn hundreds of thousands of voters out of the woodwork as Obama did. But there's no evidence of this at all.

Fourth: Palin isn't the only fresh face in the primaries. Sullivan seems to suggest that the partiers are dying for someone new after the Bush years and McCain's candidacy, for which they were lukewarm, at best. By this logic, Palin will get swallowed up by Mitch Daniels, Tim Pawlenty and John Thune -- three very competent, reasonably young men, of whom most tea partiers have probably never heard. Mike Huckabee, if he runs, will siphon many votes away from Palin -- they will be going after the same wing of the party, and Huckabee is a fantastic campaigner. Additionally, if tea partiers are looking for someone new, isn't it just as likely that they'll tire of Palin? I'm already seeing signs of this in my own family, and the primaries are still a year away.

Fifth: Republican voters aren't as stupid as Sullivan implies. John McCain was clearly not the most "conservative" option in 2008 -- that distinction probably would have gone to Duncan Hunter or Fred Thompson -- but he and Mitt Romney -- a moderate governor of a blue state who at one time was pro-choice and pro-gay marriage -- became the two front-runners. It's probably no coincidence that McCain and Romney were arguably the two most electable candidates in the general election. Republicans understand that primaries have consequences -- grasping it much better than their Democratic counterparts (who support candidates like Howard Dean and John Edwards). While I would have supported Mike Castle in a heartbeat and am dumbfounded that he was defeated by O'Donnell in Delaware, there is a huge chasm between a few thousand votes in tiny Delaware and a presidential campaign. In fact -- again, based on my experiences and conversations with my own family -- I'd wager that while many voters might love what Palin has to say, admire her personally and will even support her causes (e.g., Miller, O'Donnell), they understand that she's simply unfit for the presidency.

Finally: Christine O'Donnell is going to lose in Delaware, period. O'Donnell's victory will cost Republicans a Senate seat that, had Castle been their candidate, they were almost assured of winning. There will be a backlash over this -- because O'Donnell won't just lose -- she'll get clobbered by perhaps 20 points. The GOP establishment will be sure to make clear that O'Donnell's candidacy was solely responsible, and it will be interesting to see how many conservative opinion leaders (the WSJ, George Will, Charles Krauthammer) make note of this as well. Republicans don't like to lose elections -- especially in years when there is a real chance to take back the Senate from Barack Obama's scary Marxist empire. Whether the rank-and-file will punish Palin, or tune her out, as a result of the drubbing O'Donnell is likely to take remains to be seen.

UPDATE: Daniel Larison agrees.

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