Gov. Sarah Palin is the political train wreck that keeps on giving. First, she was an awful choice last year as John McCain’s running mate. I came to this conclusion with regret — I am one of McCain’s biggest admirers.
But facts are facts. An inexperienced governor of a small state, she lacked the experience to be President and brought nothing to the ticket except a surefire knack for exciting voters who were already reliably Republican. It was a strategically awful choice, and I said so — both on and off microphone — at the time. Most pundits thought I was wrong. Look at the crowds she can draw, I was told. She “excites the base.”
Phooey. Every presidential election year brings forth some new nugget of conventional wisdom from the media elite that totally misses the real picture. Last year, the big wrong idea was this notion that base voters have somehow become the new swing voters. We are now told the party base — those voters who will vote for a bag of cement if it has an R or D attached to it — must be carefully appealed to, romanced and appeased.
Under that funhouse reasoning, Palin was an inspired pick.
Unfortunately for McCain, the actual swing voters, the independents who do determine the winner of the election, didn’t buy into this fantasy at all. After a three-week sniff, most couldn’t run away from Palin fast enough.
Yet even after she helped cost McCain the election, Palin’s great charm endured, at least among many grass-roots Republicans. At least until her astonishing self-immolation during a hastily organized backyard press conference last week, where she gamely competed with honking geese to resign midterm as Alaska’s rookie governor. Today, in the wake of that debacle, it is puzzling to many outside our party how some Republicans can still see her as an appealing candidate for the party nomination in 2012. This begs the question: Why is there still so much Republican love for Sarah Palin?
Other politicians are more reliable conservatives; Palin ran for governor on a set of populist issues usually linked to Alaska Democrats. She lacks any real accomplishment — no military or private-sector career of note, no academic achievement beyond a frenetic bounce between five colleges, including a sun ‘n’ surf-oriented outfit in Hawaii. She has served only two years as governor of a small and uniquely easy-to-govern state (other governors pine for Alaska’s small population and billions of dollars in easy revenue from oil production), a job she has now abandoned.
The answer is that Palin profits mightily from a Republican blind spot. She has all the right smirking enemies in America’s media elite. To them, Palin reeks of flyover America, that vast and corny collection of Nebraskas and Alabamas where the Army can always meet enlistment quotas and Tina Fey’s private jet stops briefly to refuel. Red state Republicans see the snarky, elite attacks on Palin as an attack on them. And in some ways, they are.
The enemy of their enemy is just fine, thank you.
So even now, after a bizarre resignation spectacle that should lead any levelheaded Republican to cringe at the idea of letting Palin within a thousand miles of the GOP nomination, she may have enough support to attempt a run for President.
She’ll lose, of course, almost certainly the Republican primaries and certainly the general election. Palin’s GOP is still only one part of that Republican base, and her slice will shrink after last week’s hara-kiri. Many of her one-time admirers will shake their heads and grumpily admit to themselves that those liberal jerks in the media elite might have been right about this one after all.
But for some in our demoralized party, the romantic joy of fighting the good fight alongside the most hated enemy of our own enemies is still a seductive idea, at least for now.
Murphy is a writer and Republican political consultant who has advised John McCain, Mitt Romney, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jeb Bush. He is a GOP political consultant and writer. He Twitters at murphymike