Sunday, November 7, 2010

Throwing Mama Grizzly from the bus

If the 2012 presidential campaign really did start the day after the midterm elections, as some of the top wags have suggested, it didn’t get off to a good start for Sarah Palin.

The conservative political personality and former nominal Alaska governor barely got time to savor the victories of the candidates she supported in the midterms — her record’s an impressive 62-23, according to Politics Daily — before she faced challenges to her enviably elastic role in American politics, and, maybe, to any plans she harbors to pursue the Republican nomination for the presidency two years on.

First, it was a Halloween head slap, delivered that day in a Politico story by Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, a piece that, based on its sourcing, calls into question the support she’d get from fellow Republicans if she went for it all:

“Top Republicans in Washington and in the national GOP establishment say the 2010 campaign highlighted an urgent task that they will begin in earnest as soon as the elections are over: Stop Sarah Palin,” Politico reported.

“Interviews with advisers to the main 2012 presidential contenders and with other veteran Republican operatives make clear they see themselves on a common, if uncoordinated, mission of halting the momentum and credibility Palin gained with conservative activists by plunging so aggressively into this year’s midterm campaigns. ...

“Many of these establishment figures argue in not-for-attribution comments that Palin’s nomination would ensure President Barack Obama’s reelection, as the deficiencies that marked her 2008 debut as a vice presidential nominee — an intensely polarizing political style and often halting and superficial answers when pressed on policy — have shown little sign of abating in the past two years,” the Politico story said.

The reporters quote one longtime Washington GOP insider: “’There is a determined, focused establishment effort … to find a candidate we can coalesce around who can beat Sarah Palin ... We believe she could get the nomination, but Barack Obama would crush her.’ "

The woman whose nomination these party insiders said would be “a disaster in waiting” [Politico’s phrase] pushed back.

Palin took to the safe redoubt of Fox News, where she is an analyst, to respond to the Politico story. "I learned back in the day that who, what, when, where, why of journalism,” she told Greta Van Susteren. “You report the facts; you let other people decide what their opinion is going to be. So having unnamed sources in an article like this is very, very, disappointing, you know. It doesn’t educate anybody. ... The paper that this story is printed on is not even worth wrapping my king salmon in.”

In typical Palinesque style, she attacked the reporters and the obvious need for unnamed sources, lashing out with a ritual passive-aggressive five minutes hate, rather than thinking about the source of their reporting — the people Palin should really be worried about. The ones in her own party.

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People like Peggy Noonan, former Reagan speechwriter and current Wall Street Journal columnist, who weighed in from there on Friday.

Noonan, who has loyally carried water for the Reagan administration and its role in history for decades now, called Palin on the carpet for some of Palin’s recent comments. She recently tried to dismiss criticism of her role in a new Alaska-based Discovery "reality show," barbs made by Bush #43 adviser and Prince of Darkness Karl Rove. Gamely but lamely, Palin ventured a parallel between her foray into television, and Reagan’s movie career, which preceded his political career by several years. In the interview, Palin mentioned Reagan's role in one movie she identified as "Bedtimes for Bonzo, bozo or something.”

Noonan, not amused, busted some rhetorical caps:

“Excuse me, but this was ignorant even for Mrs. Palin. Reagan people quietly flipped their lids, but I'll voice their consternation to make a larger point. Ronald Reagan was an artist who willed himself into leadership as president of a major American labor union (Screen Actors Guild, seven terms, 1947-59.) He led that union successfully through major upheavals (the Hollywood communist wars, labor-management struggles); discovered and honed his ability to speak persuasively by talking to workers on the line at General Electric for eight years; was elected to and completed two full terms as governor of California; challenged and almost unseated an incumbent president of his own party; and went on to popularize modern conservative political philosophy without the help of a conservative infrastructure. Then he was elected president.

"The point is not 'He was a great man and you are a nincompoop,' though that is true," Noonan writes. "The point is that Reagan's career is a guide, not only for the tea party but for all in politics. He brought his fully mature, fully seasoned self into politics with him. He wasn't in search of a life when he ran for office, and he wasn't in search of fame; he'd already lived a life, he was already well known, he'd accomplished things in the world."

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Fact is, there’s been a gathering sense that, for all her Mama Grizzly bluster, for all her energy on behalf of congressional candidates, Palin is considered damaged goods by the GOP establishment. You got a glimpse of that on Nov. 1, before the midterms had been decided, when Chris Wallace of Fox News interviewed Palin, appearing to try to let her down easy, to give her an out:

WALLACE: I think you're having too much fun. I think you're making too much money. You're still a big player in national politics. You don't have 100 people like me chasing you around saying, 'What does she read in the morning?' I don't think you're going to run.

PALIN: You know, the country is worth it, though, to make those sacrifices, when we talk about making money today, having a lot of fun today, having all this freedom. If the country needed me -- and I'm not saying that the country does and that the country would ever necessarily want to choose me over anyone else, but I would be willing to make the sacrifices if need be for America.

It’s impossible to know right now how this selfless, magnanimous gesture might ultimately be received by the GOP leadership. What could happen in a year? Things change. You can go from underground to the top of the world in a lot less time than that. Ask the Chilean miners.

One problem for the Republicans in coming out so soon against a Palin candidacy is that it jumps the gun by a lot. She hasn’t declared she’s running. Nobody’s declared that they’re running. Coming out so early against one of their own — for all her flaws, Palin carries the party water like nobody's business — looks a little mean-spirited, maybe even sexist. Piling on like this could have blowback the leadership never expected.

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But Noonan’s Journal column gives more than adequate cover to anyone inclined to throw the Mama Grizzly off the bus before the bus starts moving next year — cover that's couched in common-sense advice to would-be candidates of any political persuasion.

“You have to earn your way into politics,” Noonan observed. “You should go have a life, build a string of accomplishments, then enter public service. And you need actual talent: You have to be able to bring people in and along. You can't just bully them, you can't just assert and taunt, you have to be able to persuade.

“Americans don't want, as their representatives, people who seem empty or crazy. They'll vote no on that.

It's not just the message, it's the messenger.”

Image credits: Palin: via The Huffington Post. Noonan: The Wall Street Journal. Politico and WSJ logos: copyrighted by their respective organizations.

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