07 June 2011

Suspension of reality and the cult of Sarah Palin

We've written here before that Sarah Palin inspires a fervent cult of personality that most resembles the Obamatrons who swept Barack Obama into the White House in 2008. As we've noted with respect to both Palin and Obama, policy rarely matters to their followers -- Palin and Obama are the policy.

In that vein, this piece of Palin-worshipping drivel from a gentleman named AWR Hawkins embodies the worst excesses of the Cult of Palin. It's aptly entitled, "Can Sarah Palin Really Beat Barack Obama? 'You Betcha.'"

Hawkins' thesis boils down to this: The "mainstream media" and the "Republican establishment" are giving Palin short shrift because on her vaunted bus tour, she is spreading a patriotic message and connecting with Americans who can't help but fall in love with her. Hawkins' his piece is typical of the horrendously illogical zealotry that has spread throughout a small, but powerfully vocal, minority of Republican voters.

First: As George Will has repeatedly pointed out, there is no such thing as the "Republican establishment." And if there is such a thing as the establishment, Sarah Palin owes everything to it. She is an elite confection, plucked out of obscurity for no other reason than John McCain's reckless desire for a potential game-changer on his ticket. Without the establishment -- certainly encompassing McCain, Steve Schmidt (McCain's campaign manager and an old Bush/Cheney hand) and Charlie Black (who has spent the last two decades as a Republican lobbyist and kingmaker extraordinaire) -- Sarah Palin is still an unremarkable one-term governor from the smallest state in the union. Other "establishment" figures who have lauded her bona fides include Bill Kristol, Roger Ailes, Matt Drudge and Rush Limbaugh.

Point 1-A: If there is a "Republican establishment," it is madly disjointed to the point of being woefully ineffective. In the 21st century, the conservative blogosphere writ large carries equal, if not greater, weight than typical establishment-type figures such as the Wall St. Journal editorial board, National Review or John Boehner. Who precisely is the "Republican establishment"? And have Palin disciples forgotten how powerless this "establishment" was when McCain and Mike Huckabee -- both considered apostates by "the establishment" -- combined to win 70% of the primary electorate in 2008?

Second: Carping about the Republican establishment -- or the "mainstream media" -- allows Palin acolytes to avoid addressing very serious concerns about Palin's experience, the myriad ethical complaints that continue to follow her, her poor performance when facing precisely the same hostile press that George W. Bush faced every day for eight years, and most critically, the apprehension that true-blue conservatives seem to have about whether Palin is actually qualified for the presidency. This is the height of intellectual dishonesty, because I have yet to hear a Palin devotee make a compelling case that she is fit for the office.

Third: To address Hawkins' thesis directly, there exists not a shred of evidence that Palin would have a prayer against Obama in the general election.

I've made this point when discussing Mitt Romney's chances against Obama, which, frankly, I believe are well under 50 percent: If Romney had, and continues to have, trouble convincing conservative primary voters that he is an acceptable choice, how can he expect to rally a much more moderate general electorate? Currently -- in a field that doesn't include Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, Mike Huckabee, Mitch Daniels or Donald Trump -- Palin is polling at approximately 17 percent, this despite the degree to which she dominates nearly every news cycle. In January, Palin's nationwide unfavorables were at 56 percent. She consistently has the highest negative marks even when only Republican voters are polled. And, critically, she is such a known quantity that it will be considerably more difficult for her to swing those numbers versus someone like, say, Tim Pawlenty or Herman Cain. It is difficult to see how she has any path to the Republican nomination should she choose to run, especially since all signs point toward Michelle Bachmann laying the groundwork for a campaign.

In a general election matchup, the evidence is overwhelming that Palin would not be competitive against Obama. While Palin would assuredly win Tennessee, Georgia, Arkansas, Louisiana, South Carolina, Utah and Wyoming, it is conceivable that she would lose the other 43 states and suffer the worst loss since Ronald Reagan routed Walter Mondale in 1984. In swing states, she polls abysmally -- by far the worst of any serious Republican contender -- against Obama. She would lose by 7 points in Ohio; 9 in North Carolina; 11 in Virginia; 13 in Nevada; 14 in Florida; 16 in Iowa; 19 in Colorado; and a whopping 29 in New Mexico. It's important to note that George W. Bush carried all but Iowa and New Mexico in 2004. Not only would Palin underperform Bush's reelection effort in all eight of those states, but she'd badly outperform McCain's futile 2008 run as well. An ABC News/Washington Post poll -- the most recent on the hypothetical matchup -- has Palin losing to Obama by a 55-40 margin. In fact, the last four polls pitting Palin against Obama in a hypothetical matchup have Palin losing by an average of 18 points.

While Palin may be a culturally familiar, admirable figure to Hawkins and others, her acolytes ignore all evidence when insisting that she could take down an incumbent president whose approval ratings have settled in around 50 percent. Her nomination would assure Barack Obama a second term -- precisely why all conservatives should line up behind her strongest opponent.

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